Bosoms and Neglect, John Guare’s dark comedy currently playing at Signature Theatre, predates the playwright’s biggest success, Six Degrees of Separation, by some 15 years. And yet the seeds of the later play are very evident in Bosoms -- an alternative title of One Degree of Separation would not be amiss.
The presence in Bosoms of Dr. James, a psychiatrist, described by one of his patient’s as "a mind butcher," is strongly felt although the character never appears on stage. In fact his absence – the play is set in New York City in August when all good shrinks take time off from their patients – leads to the initial conflict. Scooper (ably played by David Aaron Baker) is 38, straight, unmarried, subject to a recurring nightmare, and filled with angst. For eleven months of the year he sees Dr. James three times a week at $150 a pop. Progress is illusive. Deidre (Katie Finneran) is an attractive, thirty-something unmarried blonde. She is a bibliophile and possibly a pathological liar. She is also what the health care industry refers to as "needy." Finneran delivers Deidre’s lines in an irritatingly breathy, girlish voice but the physical comedy, the double takes, she handles with great aplomb. She sees Dr. James five times a week at $140 a pop and has been doing so for years. Her progress seems negligible.
Angst is everywhere as these two characters – left to their own devices while their mutual shrink is out of town for a month – engage in verbal and physical foreplay as the audience laughs at their foibles and their shrink jokes. The play has been updated since the original 1979 version. For instance, James is now a computer analyst who not only talks the talk but, in one of Guare’s many ironic moments, proudly announces that, unlike the neglectful Dr. James, he is available to his clients in times of crisis. At the risk of divulging too much of the plot, suffice to say that these fellow analysands, in the absence of their psychiatrist, their "Daddy," turn to each other and then against each other.
Some of the physical aspects of the play raise questions. For instance, Scooper, a computer nerd who is about to go to Haiti for a vacation with his married lover, wears a suit. A suit! And Deidre must be the only bibliophile in Manhattan who can afford a shrink and a rather luxurious apartment. But these incongruities are merely quibbles. Otherwise the production is fine.
The third and most intriguing character in this three-hander is Scooper’s mother, Henny. Mary Louise Wilson plays the blind octogenarian with just the right amount of Irish charm, wit, and pathos. She evokes sympathy, anger, and the kind of expectorant laughter that comes only with the shock of recognition. Admittedly, Guare has given her many of the play’s best lines but Wilson wastes not one word, note one movement in a performance that is truly excellent.
While the various functions of bosoms – to succor the young, sucker a lover – are explored by Guare, so are many forms of negligence – parental, filial, professional, social, medical, and so on. No matter how many times Henny prays to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, her disease, she says of her cancer, "was sick of not being noticed." And the same is true of Guare’s other characters. While their neuroses, their dreams, their nightmares and disappointments may amuse the audience, ultimately Bosoms and Neglect does not leave ‘em laughing.
BOSOMS AND NEGLECT
By John Guare
Directed by Nicholas Martin
With David Aaron Baker, Katie Finneran, and Mary Louise Wilson
Set Design: James Noone
Costume Design: Gail Brassard Lighting Design: Frances Aronson
Sound Design: Red Ramona
Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet
Opened at Signature Theatre Company, 555 W. 42nd St. (212/244-7529)
12/13/98; closing 1/10/99.
Seen and reviewed by Susan Davidson, 12/13/98.
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© Elyse Sommer, December 1998