The Problematic Cartoonist, Theater for the Age of Gold, at the Lunar Cabaret. A pivotal mutant lies at the heart of this Rhino in Winter fest selection by Jeff Dorchen–a young woman afflicted with a strange malady that causes her skin and cartilage to regenerate with astonishing speed. Her suffering does not make her a better person, but it has an irrevocable effect on her caretakers.

Dorchen’s abbreviated fable (barely an hour long) is told chiefly in the form of an epistolary narrative involving a market consultant for the New Yorker who signs his correspondence “Biggest Fan” and the artist he addresses as “Problematic Cartoonist.” (Dorchen illustrates their interactions in part with the cartoonist’s portfolio, handed out to audience members as they arrive.) But the grotesque central character is never seen, except through the perceptions of Biggest Fan (who turns out to be her father), a doctor, and Problematic Cartoonist. With subtle economy Dorchen traces the progress of her father from smug egocentricity to empathy, of her doctor from stammering uncertainty to confidence, and of the cartoonist from self-effacing materialism to introspective integrity.

David Kodeski as Biggest Fan, Lindsay Porter as the doctor, and Dorchen himself as Problematic Cartoonist deliver subtle performances free of self-indulgent exaggeration. Dorchen’s compositions have always had teeth, but The Problematic Cartoonist has a heart too.

–Mary Shen Barnidge