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LETTERS TO EDITOR
The Chinese Art of Placement
by Les Gutman
So it is with Sparky Litman(T. Scott Cunningham), the curious character to whom Stanley Rutherford introduces us in The Chinese Art of Placement. The title refers, of course, to Feng Shui, and as we meet Sparky he is deep in the practice: fretting over where to place the red kitchen chair that seems to be his principal piece of furniture. We might think he's obsessed with the practice (and he is). What we soon learn is that it is merely part of a remarkable transformation in Sparky's life, from oddball outcast poet and erstwhile spy, to normality. Or so he would like to think.
What we learn slightly later is also interesting: that this process is of very recent vintage, having commenced within the last twenty-four hours. At the center of the transformation is a kick-off party, for which Stanley is busy on the phone constructing a guest list. Not surprisingly, it's a hard sell. Along the way, he places a call to his idol, Tina Turner, and though he gets short shrift from her "people," subsequent invitees are informed she'll be performing. Should we believe Sparky's fantastic (if a bit elongated) tale about his unwitting effort as a spy on the Trans-Siberian railroad? Or that he has a family (and neighborhood) mausoleum in his basement? I doubt it, but if we read between the lines, we'll find out enough about Sparky to describe Chinese Art as a trenchant character portrait. And that's without mentioning his compulsive relationship with the parade of ants that regularly march across his floorboards. (Or do they?)
Mr. Rutherford has written cleverly and energetically here, and Jessica Bauman has staged his work quite well. Around minute sixty, we begin to tire, but we stay with Sparky. Much of the credit for this goes to Mr. Cunningham, who manages to overcome his Sparky's credibility issues to make the character exceptionally believable. He is at once endearing and pathetic, a good-hearted nutate, self-aware and yet quite delusional. The actor is indeed the star attraction.
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The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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