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The Hellenic Times | This Month on Stage

Slyly shifting into five wickedly distinct characters that are simultaneous products of exaggerated achievement and lost hope, actor-writer Alexander Lyras astutely captures the pre-millennium alienation of the "just do it" life plan in his solo work, desperelics.

Taken from his experiences behind a bar, at a multimedia office, in apartments fringe and fancy and one on one encounters with intense personas that he ingeniously interprets, the overriding theme of desperelics emerges with a clarity that is at once hilarious and shocking: life plans lead to chaos.  The desperation to achieve freezes if not fossilizes true inspiration.  The fanatic characters are portrayed as running over the very thing they're chasing.

Cultural victims include a genius philosophy prodigy with a penchant for hard tasks and pedophilia, a fitness trainer whose weakness for gambling keeps him pumped up, a drug delivery messenger who saves lives, a corporate lackey whose career maneuvers have enslaved him to a copy machine and the inventor of the first Greek diner.

desperelics ran originally from January 15th to February 14th at the Gene Franke Theater, and was extended till March 1st. The show sold out twenty one of twenty nine performances and the closing night's audience included Mike Nichols who proceeded to cast Alex in "What Planet Are You From?" written by and starring Gary Shandling, Greg Kinnear, Ben Kingsly, John Goodman and Annette Bening, with whom Alex has two scenes.

Writer/Performer: Alex Lyras
Director: Robert McCaskill
Original Music: Eric Chess
Set Design: William Moser
Lighting Design: Jason Livingston
Sound Design: Jim Farmer
Producers: Nektonic Productions, New Mercury Players
Daily News
Saturday, January 30th
Critics Choice: Theater
by David Kaufman

Even if you vowed that you would never go to another one-person show, a newcomer named Alex Lyras provides some pretty compelling reasons to withdraw your pledge. In his new collection of seven characters, "Desperelics," Lyras presents a fitness trainer whose obsession with gambling interferes with his work; a philosophy professor with a hefty curriculum and a dirty secret; an intense housewife who loves to humiliate her husband in public.

The best of Lyras impersonations is also his most cynical: a volatile, coke-snorting, corporate flunky who dreams of crushing other people on his way to the top while he's mostly stuck at the bottom.

"Let's teach people how to E-mail viruses to their competitors," he suggests.

Catch a refreshing young talent in the making in "Desperelics," at the Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond Street. Tickets are $15 . for reservations and information, call 212.505.0099.
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Show Business
February 17 - 23, 1999 Desperelics
Review by Brian Casey

Desperelics, a one man show written and performed by Alex Lyras and developed and directed by Robert McCaskill, introduces us to seven vibrant, intriguing, and passionate characters that a typical New Yorker will find none to familiar. But what is most uncommon about this refreshing evening of theatre is the care and effort that Lyras has invested in the show. The term self-indulgent, all too frequently descriptive of Off Off Broadway productions of original work, has no place here.

From the slick, multidimensional set to the otherworldly lighting, to the mesmerizing guitar accompaniment, every aspect of Desperelicsgives its audience more of what they came for while never failing to complement the writing and performing at its core. The characters who populate Lyras' imagination are many and varied.

The evening opens, "Terminator-style", with an eerily lit stage and a bespectacled figure, shrouded in darkness. This mysterious personality, we learn, is a former Columbia philosophy professor with a comically inflated self-perception who has recently been demoted, for "minor" sexual indiscretions, to the obscurity of teaching night classes at a continuing education center. He is followed by a Brooklyn fitness instructor more interested in a life-or-death game than in his overweight charge; a homebody dealing "product" out of a tackle box, and not always the kind you'd expect; a young but fading fast corporate refugee whose lofty goals are undermined by his questionable ambitions; and a poorly aging Jewish princess, from somewhere in darkest Long Island, who prefers her decaf black and her smokes with meat.

The evening concludes with two characters who are probably closer to home for Lyras: a youngs urban male recovering from a Blade Runner romance with the assistance of Jack Daniels, and an aging immigrant exhorting his grandson to never forget the contributions Greeks have made to dining culture. The sketches develop nicely, and are filled with the kind of gems that accuratley reflect the range of human absurdity. But these seven are no caricatures. Lyras clearly loves his menagerie, and invests them with the kind of vulnerability that keeps us on their side, no matter how disgusting their actions or reprehensible their attitudes. And just as importantly, Lyras respects their stories far too much to give them away all at once. Each character keeps his cards close to his chest, revealing each one slowly, purposefully. As a result, out attentions are with him with each new revelation, as we wonder just what else he holds in his hand. Apparent weaknesses often turn around and surprise us by becoming inherent components of character. The incomprehensible beginnings of the philosophy professor's rant, for example, let us know what it feels like to be one of his students, while the disconnected and meandering tale of the corporate drone becomes a metaphor for the man himself.

As the sole occupant of the stage for ninety uninterrupted minutes, Lyras does a marvelous job of holding our attentions. His performance is alive, spontaneous, and compassionate, and is fueled by a boundless energy that kept the audience chattering well after the show's conclusion.

There is much to enjoy in Desperelics,more than theater-goers will find in many shows at five times the price. Lyras seems to have poured one-hundred percent of all his talents into the production, and his care and compassion come through loud and clear. The show has recently been extended through March 1, so you have a few more weekends to catch an evening of theatre as rare Off Off Broadway as the standing ovation that will likely follow it.
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THEATRE SCOPE
The Compulsive Theatre Goers Guide<
February 22nd, 1999

Desperelics is a show that will elevate your pulse and stir your imagination. Alexander Lyras' play about the effect of desperate ambition is an invigorating one-man show in which he portrays overachievers ranging from a pedantic pedophile to a street drug peddler down on his luck. In general, Lyras avoids the easy shots; only one character, an embittered Jewish wife who enjoys humiliating her husband in public, falls beneath his talents.

Lyras is an actor capable of subtlety and nuance, so it's ironic that his lowbrow New York characters are the most complete. One is a menial office employee who copes with the help of a little cocaine, the other a dealer trying to talk his way out of a brush with the law. The drug parlance and attitude are right on target.

Jason Livingston, lighting designer and William Moser, set designer, both deserve mention for effectively capturing the writer's sometimes demonic spirit. Luckily for anyone searching for a thoroughly absorbing performance, the show has been extended through March 1st.
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THE RESIDENT
February 26th, 1999
Review by Leah Reisman

Singular Sensation -- Actor and Writer Alexander Lyras Gives a Tour-de-Force Performance In His One-man Show.

"I had gone to law school because ever since I was little I heard: high school, college, law school, job."

Alexander Lyras, writer and star of the current off-Broadway one-man show, desperelics, is explaining why he left law school to become an actor. He recalls having gone to a study group with a bunch of people. Each person was asked why he or she had wanted to go to law school and after the tenth person had given a different reason other than wanting to be lawyer, Lyras felt something wasn't making sense.

Lyras saw that many of the people around him on the business track were headed towards destruction. They were so desperate for success, they were losing or destroying themselves in the very process of trying to build their lives. He knew he had to choose a different path. And lucky for theater going audiences, he has. Desperelics came out of Lyras' observations of the desperately unhappy people around him in college, law school and various jobs and the comedy and tragedy that resulted from their struggles.

Desperelics begins with a college philosophy professor giving a lecture. The character is an extraordinarily pompous, tightly wound, hyper-intellectual Brit. As he goes through the texts that the class will be reading this semester, a list which reads like the entire history of philosophy from the dawn of man, little snide remarks slip out revealing a very angry man. While this character was quite entertaining, I couldn't help but be a bit worried. I wasn't sure I wanted to spend two hours in his company. Fade to black as the professor ended his monologue.

As I awaited the professor's return, I and other audience members were greeted instead, with a fitness trainer trying to wheedle a potential client into buying a membership. About 180 degrees removed from the professor, Lyras' effortless transition was nothing short of jaw-dropping. And thus began the journey that is desperelics.

The show contains no less than seven different, fully realized characters each one more hilarious and poignant than the last. Lyras even plays a woman convincingly.

When asked how he makes his transitions from one character to another so smoothly, he explains that "each character has a sentence that sort of gets his or her motor running." Before going on stage to perform the next scene's character, Lyras will use one of the sentences to get himself into character. For instance, before playing the disgruntled housewife named Lisa, he says. "Tonight's the night I set him straight!" For the fitness trainer he says, "I'm helping you out..."

It is a tribute to Lyras' acting that while each scene is a monologue, he manages to convince you that you are watching a dialogue between two or more people. Even more remarkably, the other person frequently seems almost as real as the character actually on stage.

Beside being a fine actor, Lyras' writing is also extremely sharp, intelligent and witty. Adding to the complexity of the material, Lyras slyly interlinks all of the characters. For instance, in the second scene, the fitness trainer tries to convince an overweight Lisa to join a gym. Lisa then appears in the sixth scene with her husband, and mentions casually she's joining a gym to lose weight for him.

These moments are always done subtly, so that the audience feels as thought they are slowly being let in on a secret. More important, this device underscores the point that all of us, no matter how different our walks of life, are intercontected by our ability to hurt, to love, and by our desperate quests to achieve.

Speaking of quests for success, Lyras explains that he acts not for money or for fame but out of respect and love for the craft. "I'm not doing this to be on television.....Acting is not about what you get, it's about what you give. It's not about me, it's about them [the audience]," says Lyras.

When asked what his ideal future career would look like, Lyras says he hopes to be surrounded by a pile of diverse scripts. "One would be a PBS children's television special, one is a mega-budget feature film, one is a new playwright and one is mine."

If desperelics is any indication, than Lyras versatility, intelligence and talent should land him right in the middle of that pile.
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THE HELLENIC TIMES
By Donna Lifshotz

Alex Lyras And His desperelics

Today everything is possible, said Alex Lyras after successfully performing his solo play, desperelics, at the Gene Frankel Theater. "It's all out there," he continued, "you just have to do it."

The play, directed by Robert McCaskill, is a wonderful portrayal of characters Alex depicted from his own experiences. The theater carried the play with full force as a sophisticated older crowd, mixed in with a younger generation of university students, laughed out loud. Meanwhile, the theme, life plans lead to chaos, developed through such lines as "She has all the qualities of a person I look for to cause me pain."

As described by Scotti Rhodes Publicity, "the fanatic characters are portrayed as running over the very thing they're chasing. The desperation to achieve freezes, if not fossilizes, true inspiration." The diversity of the characters set them apart, but equal enthusiasm ran from one to another, surprising even Alex himself, he said, by having the characters "do their own thing."

The first character, a philosophy professor who thrives on difficult tasks and pedophilia, made the audience feel like they were part of the schooling process. Following a lengthy lecture, a hoodlum drug delivery messenger who thought he was helping those to whom he sells his products emerges. Before the audience has time to catch its breath, a fitness trainer dressed in a gym suit ran out and enthusiastically showed an interested patron around the gym. Later, the audience learns he has a weakness for gambling which helps him run so fast and soon after off the stage completely.

Alex grew up in Scarsdale in a Greek household and had a "terribly functional childhood." He added, "I was over-educated in a good way." Alec attended Bucknell University where he majored in Philosophy and then went to law school for a short time before returning to New York to pursue acting. While his father laid the intellectual foundation for Alex, he inherited his artistic side from his mother Georgia, who has written two cookbooks: "Foods Of Greece" and "Of Course You Can Cook Greek." "My parents were cool in the sense that they let me make my own mistakes."

In New York, Alex studied with Robert McCaskill. The ancients in Greek theatre influenced him, as well as Eric Bogosian and the "certain gravity" of John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe and Kevin Spacey. Meanwhile, he doesn't see such a big shift in is acting career from law school. "The legal process originated in Greece," he explained "With ancient law, you were trying to appeal to emotion. It's a performance."

Alex has participated in 20 plays in New York, including Shakespeare's Henry IV part I in which he played his most memorable role as Hotspur, the passionate guy on the losing team. "Shakespeare teaches you rhythm," he said. Being part of these different productions has allowed him to try different roles and expand his acting palette. "Acting is a beautiful thing. It's you, your mind, your body."

This summer Alex traveled to Greece, visited the Odeon Theatre at the Acropolis, said some lines and heard his echo. He also went to the restored Globe Theatre in Great Britain and said the experience was "magic." Although he was disappointed with Hollywood today, he added, he would still take $20 million to do a blockbuster.

Overall theater is his passion. "I see all these great actors returning to theater which shows a healthy civilization." After surviving the hard work and stress of his solo performance, he said, "Theater is more fun because it happens all at once. Artists have that responsibility. You need to be confident because the work has been put in. Once you're on that stage, once the audience is in the dark and you are in the light, you better have something to say."
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THIS MONTH ON STAGE
Late Spring 1999

Desperelics, which follows in the path of Leguizamo, Glaser and Hoch, is a worthy evening of character monologues by newcomer Alex Lyras. Nearly all seven vignettes deal with urban working stiffs, be they pushing paper on Wall Street or pushing lunch hour drugs to the people who push paper on Wall Street.

"If you're not on the edge you're taking up too much space" reads the slogan for Desperelics, an apt description of such personae as a bitter employee sublimating his rage in cocaine and liquor or a health club staffer in over his head with gamblers.

After an odd, zen like opening, Desperelics clicks with the first monologue, about a professor who promises to cram three years of graduate level philosophy into the first week of an adult-ed class. (We also discover he's been kicked out of Columbia on charges of pederasty.) Lyras, like a more muscular version of a young Alan Arkin, has his best moments with the self-destructive office worker in a well observed sequence that takes the employee from typical grousing about work (with the usual dreams of going postal on his superiors) to a substance-fueled frenzy that will somehow get him through another day. Another good bit casts Lyras as a soft-spoken downtown drug dealer, forced to rat on the cops about his supplier.

Since Desperelics functions as much as an acting showcase as a play, Lyras invariably has to play both a woman and an ethnic type. He's not especially convincing as a Jewish lady who insults her husband until admitting to a longing to get their marriage back on track, but the material amuses. Lyras energy and lively situations keeps eyes off wristwatches and on the stage.
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