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A CurtainUp Review
The Mail Order Bride

You can buy a person’s labor,or if you don’t want to hire a Mexican in California, then you can send your factory to Mexico and hire your Mexicans there, and this is even better because then you can keep your clean air in California and send your dirty air to Mexico. Let the Mexicans breathe the factory air, let the Mexicans ruin their health, let the Mexicans shorten their lives, so you can, as it were, import their health to America and have it for yourself.
— Argan's rationale about importing an Asian bride.

Sue Jean Kim  as the title character in The Mail Order Bride
Sue Jean Kim as the title character in The Mail Order Bride
(Photo: Jon Kandel)
Playwright Charles L. Mee has made a career of some very original piggybacking on classic texts. That's why his latest play, a spin on Moliere's Imaginary Invalid, is well suited to Resonance Ensemble, a company with a penchant for presenting classic plays in tandem with modern adaptions.

While I've only seen the Mee half of the current Resonance pairing of something old with the something new that it seeded, one program is used for its double presentation so I can tell you that both Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid and Mee's The Mail Order Bride feature the same basic cast of characters but that Mee has Americanized all the names — except that of the main character, Argan and Cleante. And while Rebecca Patterson's Invalid isn't likely to borrow bits and pieces from other classic sources as Mee does (the most obvious borrowing being from The Misanthrope and Wycherly's The Country Wife), she too isn't putting on quite what Moliere had in mind since her Invalid is being performed by an all female cast.

So how trenchant and entertaining is Mee's modern day Argan? To be bluntl, not very.

Mee's Argan is a wealthy American widower whose hypochondria takes the form of an obsession with fitness and youth that finds him surrounded by two young women, one a personal fitness trainer and the other a new age guru. Argan's fountain of youth quest naturally leads to his seeking a trophy wife, specifically a young Asian who he feels will be meek and subservient and willing to cater to his needs.

To no one's surprise, except Argan's, the marriage brokered mail order bride deal doesn't work out quite as expected. For one thing, the young woman in question is not from China but a California girl who, seeing all her friends already married and her biological clock ticking away, decided to fly to New York to take a shot at an arranged marriage. However, she views this like an interview for a job that she can accept or turn down, whereas Argan considers it a done deal. Having met a handsome young man on the way to New York her aging suitor and his little tip sheet of rules for suitable wifely behavior, the mail order marriage is more or less dead on arrival.

With no chance that Argan will win his bride, there are only rather silly subplots to insure that everyone on stage —Argan's feuding daughters, June and, yes Argan—, winds up matched up with someone. Furthermore, the villain of the piece, the conniving marriage broker who, shades of The Misanthrope, almost costs Argan his fortune and home, is defanged courtesy of a Federal agent.

Maybe all this would be more amusing if it were on a level with Argan's rationale for his importing a foreign bride that's quoted at the top of this review. But except for that one incisive bit of satire, everything comes off as flat and forced. Having the actors several times break into song (by Travis Kramer) seems more desperate than flavorful.

Add Eric Parness's uneasy direction, the fact that John Henry Cox seems totally miscast and that the supporting cast works hard but not especially well, and this is, if you'll forgive the pun, a Mees-fire.

Playwright: Charles Mee
Directed by Eric Parness
Cast: John Henry Cox, Booth Daniels, Susan Ferrara, Vivia Font, Sue Jean Kim, , Peter McCain, Lori McNally, Melissa Miller, Susan Louise O'Connor, Jarel Davidow, James T. Ware.
Sets: Dustin O'Neill
Costumes: Sidney Shannon
Lights: Aaron Mason
Original Music &Sound: Nick Moore
Lyricist: Travis Kramer
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Resonance Ensemble at Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd St. 212-279-4200
From October 27 through November 19 , 2006; opening November 2nd.
Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm &8pm, and Sundays at 2pm &7pm.
Tickets are $18.
Running in repertory with a play that inspired it, Molière's final satire HE IMAGINARY INVALID.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on May 31st press performance

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