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LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
by Les Gutman
Those who stay in their seats during the intermission will get to hear excerpts from Bach's study of Baroque keyboard styles that shares its title with this world premiere play by Marcy Kahan. Whereas Bach's original contained some thirty variations on its theme, Kahan has presented seven variations or, as they are more conventionally known, scenes from the life of Dulcy Goldberg (Amy Resnick).
Dulcy is a young director of "experimental" Shakespeare. Notwithstanding a career and a string of "sort of" boyfriends and variously-theoried therapists, she finds herself confused and depressed. We meet her in a departure lounge at Heathrow as she returns to Montreal because of her mother's (Scotty Bloch) life-threatening illness. Variation One is a cleverly packaged expository monologue in which Dulcy tells her life story to a captive audience -- the stranger sitting across from her waiting for a plane. We've all been there.
She realizes -- too late -- that her mother is the best medicine for what ails her. Despite her quest for answers once she arrives at the hospital (Variation Two), death comes quickly. While Dulcy sorts through boxes of memorabilia in the family home, resisting her sister Nora 's (Molly Powell) efforts to sell the place (Variation Three), her mother's ghost appears. Dulcy asks her mother to stay with her and travel the world. As the first act ends, mother Evelyn tells her to let Nora sell the house, and decides "heaven can wait." The second act finds them on a world tour, ending in Puerto Rico.
While we see lots of new plays that start out potently and then fizzle in a murky state of irresolution, Goldberg Variations begins unsure of itself -- a hodge-podge of forced humor that relies heavily on litanies of dramatic and literary references -- but builds to a thoughtfully poignant if bittersweet conclusion. Perhaps this is not surprising since Goldberg is a play not about a character's unwinding, like many, but about Dulcy's winding: finding her own inner path out of the disorder of it all.
Four actors (five if you count the relentlessly Jewish mother) play a dozen stereotypes in support of Dulcy's story. While many of the brief portrayals are apt, there's a sketch comedy feel to much of it, aided by a director holding only loosely to her actors' tethers and abetted by a script that often seems more interested in getting a laugh than in making its point. Some of these characters help flesh out the story (notably, Powell's Nora as the grammar-obsessed sister and Richard Topol as the nebbish Dr. Lucas Freedlander, formerly Dulcy's camp counselor, whose destiny, it seems, is to reconnect, to no avail, with her). But others seem to be along simply to amuse: Powell and Antoinette LaVecchia as dueling nurses, as an example -- broadly funny but not very germane.
The play comes into its own when the relationship between mother and daughter reaches center stage. Bloch's Evelyn has a beaming warmth, but a tough edge. Resnick blends sophistication with an endearing innocence as Dulcy. Together, their affection is genuine. Kahan exhibits a studied feel for the intricacies of the mother-daughter pas de deux. And we take the post-mortem leap of faith without much nudging. The strength of these latter Variations overcomes the earlier weakness.
The challenge of keeping up with the Goldberg penchant for travel is ably met by Zeke Leonard's simple sets. Relying heavily on dual turntables, he manages to get us from Europe to America and back again twice.