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THEATER REVIEW | 'THICK'

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A Dim Hero Sees a Bright Side

Published: August 25, 2005

Mental deficiency equals infinite wisdom and virtue in "Thick," a slickly performed and utterly manipulative new play by Rick Bland at Collective: Unconscious as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. Mr. Bland also plays Rudy, the show's unreliable narrator, whose overbearing mother (Ross Mullan) dropped him on his head as an infant and thus turned him into the sweetest, sagest moron since Forrest Gump.

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Kent Campbell

Ross Mullan, standing, with Rick Bland and Tamara Bick in "Thick."

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"I can see nice in everything," Rudy boasts, and it's maddeningly true. When abused or exploited, he smilingly basks in the attention. Rudy's daft ebullience can disarm even the most ill-tempered jerks, from his creaky grandmother (Tamara Bick) to a stunningly insensitive priest (Mr. Mullan). Rudy must get his taste for platitudes from his lawn-obsessed father (Mr. Mullan), who advises him, "Celebrate the differences in everybody."

Ms. Bick and Mr. Mullan move among multiple roles with enviable smoothness under Mark Bruce, the director. But while Ms. Bick switches tones and sexes with admirable gravity, the gangly Mr. Mullan is prone to breezy caricature, even in the meaty role of the bipolar, bespectacled Mama.

This may partly explain why the play's precipitous tumble from broad comedy into outright domestic tragedy does not convince. The main problem with "Thick," though, is the faux-naf Rudy, who recounts but does not quite comprehend his story - until, that is, he spouts a climactic fountain of self-help aphorisms and bathetic benedictions.

Mr. Bland is appealing, but with Rudy he has created the sort of idealized man-child whom kindly cabbies befriend, saying, "I like the way you think, kid." For all its freewheeling theatricality, the way "Thick" thinks is like a bad television movie.

"Thick" runs tomorrow at 5 p.m., Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at noon at Collective: Unconscious, 279 Church Street, TriBeCa; (212) 279-4488.

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