Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
The Last Word. . .
Len Artz (Adam Green), an unassuming young man in the NYU graduate school playwriting program doesn't know what he is in for when he arrives for an interview with Henry Grunwald (Daniel J. Travanti), who couldn't be more offending or off-putting from the outset. Len needn't be concerned that any more plaster will fall from the walls off the shabby-looking office atop a Greenwich Village theatre (realistically evoked by designer Michael V. Moore). But he certainly isn't prepared for the onslaught of intimidating, insulting verbal abuse about to be inflicted upon him by the legally blind Viennese Jew who is looking for an assistant.
At first, Len takes exception to Henry's intimations that he isn't Jewish enough. Their interaction continues tense and unsettling as Henry discloses that he is a Holocaust survivor, but is more recently a retired successful advertising executive with hopes of fulfilling his life-long dream to become a playwright. Finished and unfinished scripts fill the cabinets. More recent ones reside within a cranky fifteen year old computer, a prop that will deliver quite a few laughs in its own inanimate way.
Having gone through a string of assistants for reasons that become crystal clear within the first few minutes of this amusing, if somewhat overwrought comedy, Henry, played with great relish and an advanced stage of self congratulatory chutzpah by balding grey-bearded Daniel J. Travanti, seems compelled to challenge and demean Len from the moment he walks through the door. Best known for his role in the TV series Hill Street Blues, Travanti has finely honed all Henry's behavior (or, more accurately, misbehavior) and nailed all the humor in the role he originated at last year's premiere production at the Malibu Stage Company. His biggest challenge is to make Henry appear more than a glib irritant as the interview takes the indisputable shape of an interrogation and provokes Len to become increasingly resentful.
Despite the almost casually racist, bigoted content of Henry's motor-mouthed rant of mostly outrageously contentious and deprecating pronouncements regarding people in general and playwrights in particular, the disagreeable curmudgeon, who unabashedly strokes his own ego, gets plenty of comic mileage putting down contemporary playwrights. He makes short shrift of Terrence McNally's compulsive homosexual themes and sums up David Mamet's famous Mametspeak with "f..ck you, f..k you, f..ck you, f..k me." He sees himself as continuing in the classic tradition of Ibsen and Strindberg. Yet Travanti makes that confrontational manner and behavior one of the plays' more endearing qualities and Len can give as good as he gets. When asked by Henry if he has something against Arthur Miller, he glibly responds "just his plays."
One of the play's funniest moments occurs when Len, his back to Henry, sits at the malfunctioning computer reading back the inane dialogue from one of Henry's truly awful plays, while its author reclines on the sofa silently emoting and mouthing the dialogue in the old-fashioned style of a silent screen actor.
While Henry supplies the caustic humor, it is Len's earnest attempt to stand his ground and at the same time escape from this disagreeable eccentric that gives the play its drive. Just how much is Len going to endure before bolting? What end is served by Henry's goading and degrading? And, how long will it take for them to discover that Henry's old fashioned views and Len's modern age conceits are not world's apart?
Green, whose wonderfully subtle performance is defined as much by his shocked responses as it is by his unflappable defensiveness, effectively carries his share of the discordant discourse. Under Alex Lippard's unobtrusively leveling direction, the intellectual sparring between the irredeemably opinionated Henry and the rightfully angered Len evolves into a quite fascinating exploration of the connection between the possibly delusional and certainly impractical older man and the steadfast but slightly insecure young man.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, there is little doubt that Len is not going to allow Henry to remain alone with his pathetic scripts. Nor do the samples Len reads from his own notably pretentious writing give any indication that he's going to have an experience that will bring him to a new level of maturity and insight.
Despite all the ellipses and pauses that are amusingly and literally factored into the action, what's still missing from The Last Word. . . is a sense of caring about its characters as much as one admires the actors playing them. Still those characters offer Travanti and Green (and actors of the many regional theaters who are likely to want to put on this play) a great opportunity to, as Henry says late in the play, "shake things up a little."
For a review of Owen Safdie's Private Jokes, Public Places go here
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide