The Capital Mall Reviewed

Most musicals, from Les Miserables to West Side Story, are epic in scope, dealing as they do with such hefty themes as revolution, death, and spiritual redemption. The Capital Mall, which debuted last Friday at the St. Clements Theatre, subverts this entire notion, focusing on the slightest details of the workplace.  And if director-writer Eric Jaimes could rein it in at a less epic length, they might really have something with potential.

Mall homes in on the very American, and very real, concept of how one can blur his or her identity with his or her job.  Jaimes focuses on a group of employees who work in the returned checks department at a major Brooklyn Heights shopping mall, managed by the engaged couple and Johnny (Max Ferguson) and Marlene (Sheena Marie Ortiz).  Their lives (and to a lesser degree, those of their fellow employees) head into a tailspin when the mall owner threatens to automate his workplace.

This zoom-lens approach to the quotidian, to the small events that fill one’s day but that one barely recalls afterward, lasts for the show’s first act and roughly of the second.  It’s Seinfeld, set to music.  But as different characters react differently to their threatened jobs, and, some believe, their threatened lives, Jaimes raises the stakes.  This causes a seismic shift in tone for this over-inflated rock opera, which bills its running time as 120 minutes but actually played for just under
three hours.  One hopes they can whittle down the pace as the show continues its run.

It is rather surprising that Mall, with its meaty storyline potential and many characters (which also includes nimble performances in multiple roles by Lee Cavellier, Molly Karlin and Thom O’Hanlon), has so much filler.  The program asserts that Jaimes has been working on the show for nearly a decade, and yet there are still many kinks to iron out.  Jaimes focuses on the effect that computer integration has on the workplace by only charting the deterioration of Johnny and Marlene’s relationship, when he could have created one or two subplots with other characters that would have reflected other possible outcomes, and justified its excessive running time.

A major problem that plagued Mall’s opening night performance was its volume.  The orchestra played so loud, especially during the opening number, that none of the lyrics could be deciphered.  This is not the problem of the cast, particularly the exceptional Ortiz, who sang full with sturdy voices, but with the microphone system.  Hopefully sound
designer Kristyn R. Smith can rectify the situation and not lose the audience right off the bat.

Something else that confuses the audience is a discrepancy with the setting, which claims to take place in 1990.  All of Carolyn Pallister’s costumes, however, reek of exaggerated 1980s styles, as does Scott Aronow’s well-constructed pastel design for the mall.  Even the heavy synthesizer music that often drowns out the show calls to mind the 1980s (Jaimes also composed and directed the music for the show).  Why couldn’t he just set the play in the mid-1980s?  By 1990, employees were far more aware of computers in the workplace.  Furthermore, all of this muddles what seemed like a lighthearted show and segues into angry drama.

Mall is a show that has an enormous amount to say, but it spends far too long trying to get there, and Jaimes dilutes his message in the process.  But if he steps back and makes some changes with the same eye as the mall owner he dramatizes, he stands a chance of
getting to the heart of the matter.

The Capital Mall is currently playing at The St. Clements Theatre, visit our database here for ticket information.

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