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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Both Linda (Julie White) and Michael (Tom Irwin) are published writers so not all their time is spent in witty conversation and monologues. Linda who teaches literary fiction is the author of a critically acclaimed novel based on her rape while in South Africa. Michael is a more commercially successful novelist. Both are prolific journal keepers and it is their journals which serve as Dietz's Pandora's box. You see, Linda upon being diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor and facing death within three weeks (as she figures it -- " twenty meals") asks Michael to read her heretofore strictly private journals after her death. As she explains it " It's ludicrous.. .not to mention vain -- I mean vain in a truly Tom Wolfe-ian sort of way -- to think that they are not real, that I am not real unless someone reads them." After warning Michael not to expect her journals to be exciting ("If you wanted excitement you should have married Plath or Nin or Stendhal"), she quietly adds a request that has the effect of a ticking bomb. Before she goes, she wants to read his journals.
Dietz, though new to New York theater goers, is an experienced, popular regional playwright. He is a savvy enough to rise above the B-Movie contrivance of that fatal tumor and the inevitability of having those journals yield shattering revelations. In his hands the fatal illness is believable because its victim is so believably complex, smart and endearing that you don't even question the fact that she remains healthy looking and lovely. As for the journals, it's the questions they raise as much, if not more, than the contents that intrigue.
Should two people, even under extreme circumstances, ever reveal their most carefully guarded secrets to each other? Are Michael's journal entries about his stay at the same writer's colony where Linda wrote her South African novel based on fact, or are they, like his other writing, fiction? Abby (Emily Bergl), the young woman who manages the colony and appears in the pages of both their journals, is obviously a real person -- but has Michael embellished on her role as the colony's facilitator?
Dietz sorts fact from fiction with quick shifts between past and present, real and imagined events. David Warren directs the many stylish twists and turns right through the surprise ending with understated theatricality. He's well served by James Youman's simple puzzle-like set, suffused in Jeff Croiter's mood enhancing lighting. Most importantly, Julie White, Tom Irwin and Emily Bergl bring intelligence and polish to characters who might easily come off as too facile and manufactured.
This is a smart play which is likely to be most appreciated by people who enjoy good acting and literate dialogue. Like the playwright's much produced Private Eyes, ( click here for my review) it's likely to have a life long after its limited run at the Roundabout's beautiful new Laura Pels Theatre.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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