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LETTERS TO EDITOR
by Les Gutman
Stewart (Christopher Burns) is not happy. His work and marriage are unsatisfying. He doesn't like what he has become, and yet hasn't the first clue how to dig out of the bed he's made for himself. Yes, we are in the midst of a mid-life crisis.
Enter Tara (Lucia Brawley), a free-spirited co-worker who becomes the catalyst for Stewart's reformation, not to mention wavering eye. The other cast members populate the two forks in the road: the straight and narrow represented by his wife, Val (Geneva Carr), and a nerdy co-worker, Bill (Matt Pepper), and the fast and loose, charted through Stewart's sexually-adventurous sister, Jackie (Tasha Lawrence), his bar-fly buddy, Owen (Alex Kilgore) as well as the aforementioned Tara, who is not an airhead, having discovered the writings of Bertrand Russell as her enchiridion. She is also responsible for planting the play's title -- a sort of polar opposite Nirvana that's fantasized as an antidote to life in New York. Without divulging too much of what transpires, lets just say that when Stewart comes unglued, he does it with uncommon and ultimately devastating gusto.
The good news here is that playwright David Folwell pens very funny, well observed dialogue. Under Rob Bundy's tight direction, it plays out cinematically (with Wilson Chin's set abetting the process nicely). Unfortunately, the fine work never amounts to much. There is little here that is fresh or insightful, and the opportunity to make the play say something is not exploited. Moreover, three slightly racy scenes depicting Jackie's encounters with three of the many guys she serially "dates" (all portrayed by Mr. Pepper) do little beyond taking us out of the story.
Burns grounds the play believably, revealing an incipient anxiety that fuels his subsequent behavior. Brawley and Lawrence are also excellent as his accelerant and enabler, respectively. Geneva Carr must contend with a role that is both the play's most vanilla and also its most-underwritten; she does as much as she can. Pepper is on-target as the dense and annoyingly officious Bill. Rounding out the cast, Kilgore, whose character and relationship with Stewart is also underwritten, and who is inexplicably young as Stewart's buddy, makes the most of it.
Folwell, who is an award-winning playwright and a student of Albee, Norman and Durang (the latter two as a fellow at Julliard), writes well enough that our future attention is warranted. Now lets hope he can find some themes to make his good work seem justified.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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