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A CurtainUp Review
The Appeal

by Les Gutman

Wordsworth: So you're saying, Coleridge, that the difficulties of asserting the existence of the necessity of being sober are not the same difficulties that you would have in asserting the necessary existence of, say, my body.

Coleridge: Right! So for example, if I touch your arm, and I don't know whether I'm touching a "real" arm or just some kind of construct, that's a completely different set of issues from wondering whether you should try to stop drinking or not.

Dorothy: I think I'm going deaf.
Maggie Hoffman and James Stanley
M. Hoffman and J. Stanley
(Photo: David Gochfeld)
Borrowing the familiar aphorism, watching poets is like watching sausage being made. In The Appeal, Young Jean Lee's obscure and obscurely titled new play, we find Wordsworth (Pete Simpson) as a guest of Coleridge (Michael Portnoy) and his sister Dorothy (Maggie Hoffman) at Grasmere. Later, the "action" will move to the castle of Lord Byron (James Stanley) in the Swiss Alps. Poetry, it seems, is borne of an admixture of thought, anxiety and booze.

Lee does not pretend to be historically accurate, so anyone seeking out a literary biography will do well to steer clear of this work. She occasionally throws in a few tidbits (the relationship of Wordsworth and Coleridge is indeed interrupted by a friendship-ending dispute, for example), and she flirts with a few ideas of the Romantics. But only superficially. Mostly, we find the men being silly and, more often than not, drunk.

It's not clear what Lee, who also directs, wants The Appeal to be. It is more of a "frolic" than a play: its scenes can be quite entertaining but don't lead much of anywhere. The style is an earnest cheekiness familiar in downtown theater, but the substance is neither sufficiently engaging nor funny enough to sustain itself even for a mere hour's duration. The language, notwithstanding Tara Webb's period costumes or the set of Eric Dyer (he ingeniously places the entire audience within a white room accented with dark mauve molding, which he then lights to particularly good effect), is a combination of 19th Century English into which contemporary word bombs are dropped.

The actors, all of whom bring downtown theater pedigrees to the effort, do fine work. The music supplied by the experimental duo Matmos is interesting, but its context is not always obvious. The appeal of The Appeal remains elusive.

The Appeal
Written and Directed by Young Jean Lee

with Michael Portnoy, Pete Simpson, Maggie Hoffman and James Stanley
Set and Lighting Design: Eric Dyer
Costume Design: Tara Webb
Sound Design: Yehuda Duenyas
Music: Matmos
Running time: 1 hour with no intermission
Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street (Church/Broadway)
Telephone (212) 868-4444
WED - SAT @7:30pm, additional performances 4/11, 4/19 (benefit $50), 4/27 and 5/2 @7:30, no performance 5/1; $15
Opening April 11, 2004, closes May 2, 2004
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 4/10/04 performance
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