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LETTERS TO EDITOR
As it was when first staged, Comedians, is a showcase for the actors. While the tour-de-force roles are those of Eddie Waters, the teacher, and Gethin Price (Raoul Esparza) the class rebel, each member of the all-male cast gets his own star turn. These opportunities are fully realized by all.
Jim Dale, currently best known for the 127 character voices in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire audio book, gives a beautifully understated and consistently moving performance that holds our attention even during the overlong monologue about how his experience during World War II made him unable to see anything funny enough to continue his promising career as a cutting edge comedian. Raoul Esparza's Gethin generates the same electricity sparked during his stint as the Emcee in Cabaret. I never saw Jonathan Pryce's Gethin in the Tony-award winning 1975 production helmed by Mike Nichols or the 1977 Los Angeles production in which Jim Dale played the angry young comedian, but it's safe to say that Esparza, especially during the startling act that culminates the play's audition scene, is good enough to defy comparisons by anyone who did.
The other well delineated, students include two with ethnic-oriented acts. Allan Corduner, whom you may remember as Sir Arthur Sullivan in the film Topsy Turvy, is terrific as Sammy Samuels who is advised by Challenor to ditch the Jewish part of his act because "What's a Jew nowadays, eh? " James Beecher is also effective as Mick Connor who gets pretty much the same advice. Still it's Samuels and David Lansbury's George McBrain who are most adept at making their auditions conform to Challenor's rule about giving people what they want, who win the opportunity to use their comedy as a means to help them escape from their dead-end Manchester lives. As for Gethin's shocking but brilliant act, Challenor, not surprisingly, finds it "repulsive."
Two non-matriculated characters who add some welcome light touches are the caretaker (William Duell) and Mr. Patel (Ismail Bashey) an Indian who has come to the school in search of an English course. Despite the program listing of a dialect coach (Stephen Gabis) Patel's accent is not very consistent.
Director Elliot wisely moves us through the comedians' cringe-inducing efforts to please the visiting agent at high speed. He also allows Mr. McCullum to rush a bit too fast through his bravura critique scene. As I recall, that scene from a production without a single name actor seen a couple of years ago at La Mama, the audition post-mortems were slower paced and made a stronger impression. That production also benefited from its environmental staging in La Mama's club, though the 100-seat Beckett Theater suits the play very well. Derek McLane and the rest of the designers have done a good job of creating the required seedy school room and Bingo playing club atmosphere -- the latter also given a boost by Gordon Connell as the club pianist..
All in all, seeing all these fine actors in a play that retains its punch, makes this one of the more interesting Off-Broadway offerings available to serious theater goers. The company's concluding productions sound equally promising and mark a promising collaboration between this and other small companies. Avenue Q, a musical with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and a book by Jeff Whitty will be coproduced with and at the Vineyard Theatre on Union Square. The Women of Lockerby, a drama by Deborah Brevoort and starring Judith Ivey and Dennis Boutsikaria, is a co-production with Women's Project & Production to be staged at The Theatre @ St. Clements.
Now that we have this revival and a new play, Take Me Out, with sizeable all-male casts, it would be nice to see a new play, which like The Women, keeps the men off stage and shines the limelight on half a dozen or more actresses of various ages.
For our review of Raoul Esparza in Cabaret and a picture of him as the Emcee go here
For the recent Off-Off-Broadway productions of Comedians which we also likedgo here
To read about the New Group first 2002-03 production, seeSmelling a Rat
Jim Dale's website
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
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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