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LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
t's not the jokes. . .it's what lies behind them. A joke that feeds on ignorance starves its audience. We have the choice. We can say something or we can say nothing. Not everything true is funny, and not everything funny is true. Most comics feed prejudice and fear and blinkered vision, but the best ones illuminate them, make them clearer to see, easier to deal with.
The Comedians, a twenty-five year young play by British playwright Trevor Griffiths (not to be confused with the Graham Greene novel and film!) is being given an interesting production by La MaMA E.T.C. Griffiths's drama about a group of Manchester working men seeking a way out of their go-nowhere lives through a night school course fit into the angry young men school of drama.
The play's first and third act unfolds in the rather dreary classroom where Eddie Waters (George Taylor) teaches not just the techniques but the philosophy of comedy. The middle act has the men performing their acts in a local workingman's club, with an influential talent agent their teacher has invited present to critique and, hopefully, give them their big chance to become professionals. It is the club location of the middle act that prompted director Ted Lambert to use Le MaMa's cabaret space. The setting as well as the restoration of cuts made (to Griffiths' dismay) to the 1975-76 Broadway production which made Jonathan Pryce a star.
George Taylor & Shawn Corbett
(Photo: Andrew French )
The staging is strictly bare bones, but the play resonates strongly thanks to an excellent cast comprised entirely of foreign actors (English, Irish and Indian) and its double-edged theme. The dominant theme is an exposé of the drudgery and yearning hopefulness (and hopelessness) of men at the bottom of the social heap. The secondary theme is on the different approaches to comedy as a means for embracing truths that can either unite or make us laugh at others' pain.
Of the ten members of the all-male cast the Irish actor Shawn Corbett, is particularly powerful as Gethin Price (the part that won Jonathan Pryce a Tony), the angry young comedian who refuses to cave in to the demands of the entertainment market. Christopher Flavell as the agent has a tour-de-force scene when he evaluates the performances he has just seen. The play sags a bit during performance segment -- except for Corett's brilliant but noncommercial final act. All told, however, and despite the modest production values, this revival makes for an absorbing, thought-provoking two hours.
by Trevor Griffiths
Directed by Ted Lambert
Cast: Shawn Corbett, Stephen Donovan, Christoper Flavell, Tim Gilmore, Martin Hiller, John O'Callaghan, Mark Cameron Pow, Debargo Sanyal, George Talor, Felix va nDyk
Set Design: William Bialosky
Lighting Design: Ken Tabachnick
Costume Design: Katie Gilmartin
Sound Design: Tim Schellenbaum
Running Time: 2 hours plus one 15-minute intermission
The Club, La MaMa, 74A E. 4th St.212-475-7710
Thursdays --Saturday 10 pm and 5:30 pm Sundays -- $15
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
based on 4/29 performance