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A CurtainUp Review
The Chinese Art of Placement

by Les Gutman
It's a funny thing being normal.
---Sparky


T. Scott Cunningham
T. Scott Cunningham
(Photo: Chuck Cors)
Theater, at its most essential, is storytelling. And, as we've come to discover, stories are not particularly reliable as sources of accurate information. But as any good therapist will tell you, if you let someone talk long enough, you'll learn enough to separate the reality from the invention.

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.

The Chinese Art of Placement
by Stanley Rutherford
Directed by Jessica Bauman
with T. Scott Cunningham
Set Design: Adam Stockhausen
Lighting Design: Tyler Micoleau
Costume Design: Lea Umberger
Running time: 1 hours 15 minutes with no intermission
78th Street Theatre Lab, 236 West 78th Street (east of Broadway)
Telephone: (212) 206-1515
THURS - MON; $15
Opening March 7, 2003, closing March 31, 2003
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 2/2/03 performance
At This Theater Cover
At This Theater


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metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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Go here for details and larger image.



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