ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Little Black Dress
By Elyse Sommer
To make up for what she's been missing in bed and all other aspects of her life she's become as addicted to her collection of fantasy game playing objects, as her slacker son Jimmy Jr (Tobias Segal) is to video games. Her collection of fantasy game triggering objects includes a little black dress to make her feel young, sexy and glamorous again and a picture of South Beach, Florida where she'd live if she could get away from her boorish husband Jimmy (Daniel Oreskes) and Blue River.
With the deadline at hand for her fantasies to turn from hopeful dreams to regrets, Amy's monologue is an ominous signal that she will slip across the border line of fairly harmless fantasy game playing into a more dangerous reality — a reality that nevertheless plays out like a scenario from the twilight zone for all three members of the dysfunctional Beaudreaux family.
If someone were going around asking "mirror, mirror on the wall, who currently on a New York stage is the most dysfunctional of all?" the Beaudreaux trio might well beat out the Shaughnessys of John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves currently in a revival production on Broadway. Ronan Noone's play, though set in the present, has much in common with Guare's 1971 serio-comedy. Amy Beaudreaux's pipe dreams of a glamorous life in a Florida beach town are not unlike Arty Shaughnessy's delusions of songwriting fame. Both Guare's and Noone's plays expose the shallowness of these dreams and have their share of humiliating nastiness, not to mention disturbing violence. And as Guare used the Pope's visit to create fantastical mayhem, so Noone has created a fourth character, Jimmy Jr.'s friend Charly Prescott (Brian J. Smith), a slick young entrepreneur who has tapped into the needs of all the bored and lonely female citizens of Blue River with an over-the-top style service operated under the cover of a window cleaning service For all the similarities, Little Black Dress lacks the older play's satiric finnesse.
It's a given that once Amy becomes Charly's numero uno client and gets up the courage to finally leave the home she views as a joyless prison tjat her reality based fantasy will have explosive repercussions. But Noone, whose work I've admired since first seeing his Irish town plays ,The Lepers of Baile Baste/ in 2004, and The Blowin of Baile Gall/ in 2005, as well as his solo play, The Atheist/, has a knack for giving his plots unexpected turns. Little Black Dress is no exception.
Noone's paints an unflinching portrait of the American heartland at its most unpleasant — populated by citizens with shoddy dreams, frayed moral values and with delusions of grandeur Yet the depressing story is told with enough surprise twists and dialogue full of ironic humor to draw you into the plot's darkness.
To avoid spoiling the surprise factor of this twisty, sad and grotesquely funny American tragedy, suffice it to say that Charly's gigolo enterprise is successful enough to employ Jimmy as his assistant "window cleaner." As for Amy, her new secret life (to sharpen the dark edge, it's no secret to son Jimmy) gives her the courage to, Nora-like, prepare to slam the door on her marriage. To keep the door from slamming, we have Oreske's bullying husband insist on marital stick-to-itiveness as a sort of payback for doing the right thing when his and Amy's high school romance resulted in her pregnancy. As he sees it this cost him his chance to be more than a worker in the local rubber factory. You can't help laughing as you hear him echo Brando in On the Waterfront with " I could have been. . .d'ya know that."
Ari Edelson, the artistic director of the Exchange which has brought this play to New York, puts his actors on stage even before the play begins which is, I suppose intended to establish our sense of being voyeurs to the people whose story we will be watching. I've rarely found this especially necessary and it isn't here. With the help of Dane Lafrey (who is also the costume designer) Edelson has created a reasonable facsimile of a dreary, tasteles Midwestern house that turns out to be not much of a home. However, the large freezer which more or less represents the kitchen is more than a little odd.
Nina Hellman, who does the heaviest lifting, is fine as the desperate housewife, and Tobias Segal embodies the ticks and twitches of doped-up loser and mamma's boy. Daniel Oreskes is also excellent as the man who would be king of his unhomelike, loveless kingdom. Brian J. Smith delivers his lines well enough and has the physique to make all those lonely Kansas ladies happy, but he somehow lacks the sleazy charisma the role of Charly Prescott calls for.
It's interesting to note that the Irish-born Ronan Noone sees this as an emigrant play written partially to explain what it feels like to leave your home and family permanently. For Amy that means leaving a dour, unhappy home for a sunnier, happier place, yet leaving behind a family member she loves. Fortunately, Noone has been luckier in his journey from one home to another. However, as his Irish plays focused on the darker side of his Irish countrymen, so he's discovered and seems to have become fascinated with the baser natures of the people he now calls his fellow Americans.