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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Joel, the precocious youngster who created the sock puppet Greek Tragedies described in the above quote may or not be Jenkins' alter ego. But I suspect there's a lot of Joel in both both him and Stanton. For sure, the two men had a great deal of fun creating this backstage/onstage two-hander: the story of the events pertaining to an adaptation of Euripides' Ion played out on the 59E59 Theater A stage when A Body of Water is dark. Like Joel, Jenkins and Stanton fearlessly take on male and female characters and enact their multi-faceted interconnected story without sets or costume changes. They even do their own sound effects.
Primary Stages deserves a resounding shout out for smart management. Allowing Love Child to occupy the theater when the company's main production is dark makes economic sense. Naturally, it requires a play that can function without dismantling the other play's set.
While the program for Love Child does feature some designer credits, Neal Patel's contribution consists of six mismatched chairs and a few drop cloths tossed over his more elaborate Body of Water set. If costumer Candice Donnelly made any contribution, it must have been to help the actors decide which slacks and t-shirts to pull out of their apartment closets. But there are more reasons this dual scheduling deserves applause: It gives two new playwrights a chance to try out their work before an audience and, being actors as well as writers, to give themselves a thorough workout. What's more, the minimal production costs give Primary Stages a chance to offer audiences live theater for the price of a movie.
What about Love Child's entertainment value? The actors' energy and versatility and their lightning fast character switches are something of an acting master class. Their farce isn't serious competition to the likes of Boeing, Boeing but Love Child is also a farce. However, it relies on the escalating zaniness and the speedy and, at times almost simultaneous, back and forth jumps among some twenty character to substitute for a conventional farce's slamming doors. For all its barest of bare bones structure and the emphasis on lots of laughs, the play also insists on donning a serio-comic double mask, and the result is poignant but also something of a mixed bag.
At the heart of the farcical Greek tragedy is a family whose careers are in a downward spiral: Joel, an actor and director of a theater company dedicated to updating classics (to wit the Euripides Ion that he's staging in a Brooklyn warehouse); his father Richard is also an actor whose latest gig is as Funnybones, a clown for a restaurant chain); and Ethel his has-been agent and mother whose all about Eve assistant has deserted to William Morris with all her clients except Joel. Amusing and at times amazing as the navigation among these and the other characters are, the actors' moving to different chairs as a means of signalling their change of character gets to be somewhat tiresome and requires really close attention to avoid confusion.
Carl Forsman's direction strikes the exactly right mood and pace, with just enough pauses in the ever mounting frantic doings. However, some of the shtickier funny business, like Ethel and Kay's bathroom exchanges are excessive and Forsman might have been well advised to persuade Jenkins and Stanton to stick to the play's original 65-minute run time. At 80 minutes, the chair hopping persona changes sag at midpoint. Fortunately, the savvy auteur/actors evenually pick up fresh steam by zestfully breaking the fourth wall and invading the audience's territory — giving a nip and tuck to the sagging serio-comic mask.