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A CurtainUp Review
Manic Flight Reaction

There's a cure for homosexuality-- fame! --- Cookie, the passionate Lesbian turned super conservative political spouse aiming to be the country's First Lady.


Deirdre O’Connell
Deirdre O’Connell
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Whatever play she's in -- and I've seen her in quite a few -- Deidre O'Connell always brings a vibrant presence to the stage. Sarah Schulman's new play, Manic Flight Reaction, is no exception. Unfortunately this is a case of when bad plays happen to good actors for Ms. Schulman just opened play isn't worthy of Ms. O'Connell's talents.

Billed as a comedy, the script does have its share of one-liners, some of them almost giving the play the satirical edge it aims for but never manages to make sharp enough. Even the snappiest snippests can't make Schulman's artificial plot more believable or keep it from sinking beneath its excessive talkiness.

Marge, our heroine (O'Connell-- a heroine in the sense that she is good enough to keep you in your seat hoping that director Trip Collman will pick up the pace and Schulman's script will rise above its cliches) has traded life of an idealistic rebel in an East Village walkup for the security of a professorship at an Illinois college. She probably owes her chance to get herself and her daughter Grace (Jessica Collins) out of the hardscrabble life and into middle class comfort of a cheerful, Ikea furnished home and health insurance to having published the only book ever written about Edith Schwartz Von Klingenfolder, an obscure Holocaust survivor and disciple of Freud's. Marge shares Von Klingenfolder's belief that "the courage to love does not deny the tragedies of human existence in manic flight reactions. The courage to love endures the distress of disillusionment and frustration. . ."

But much as Marge espouses Von Klingenfolder's theory of facing and dealing with fears rather than withholding, there are a few major events in her life that she's withheld from her daughter. As might be expected, the plot turns on having the withheld truths impinge on Marge's tranquil life teaching "the history of consciousness" and occasionally bedding her dull but comfortable young teaching assistant Albert (Austin Lysy).

To effect these withheld revelations -- the long-ago plane-crashing suicide of Marge's mother and a passionate affair with a woman now married to a Neocom senator, maybe on the verge of becoming the country's First Lady -- Marge's doorbell seems to never stop ringing: First to arrive are daughter Grace in need of a break from Hampshire College and her boyfriend Luke (Michael Esper) who, being a rich tycoon's son, doesn't need money but does hunger for fame. This sets the scene for Schulman's aim of taking satirical potshots at a culture that has lost its ideals to media hype. Sometimes this works, as when another ring of the bell brings Susan (Angel Desai) to the front door. The sensation seeking journalist, equipped with a James Bond-like watch to record an interview, displays her lack of depth and knowledge by referring to Freud as Fred.

Ms. Schulman's way of connecting the dots between all the secrets is to have Marge's mother posthumously famous as the central character in a film called (what else?) Manic Flight Reaction. But wait, there's more. The woman playing the daughter of the suicidal aviatrix Susan declares will be " the new Diane Arbus, Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath" is Marge's (heard but not seen) estranged lover, Lily Joselit.

I'll spare you further details of these increasingly implausible developments. They do show Grace and Luke to be likely followers of Susan's brand of journalism, a visit from Cookie (Molly Price) and, a flashback with Marge's mother (also played by Price). Price is funny but does little to overcome the stereotypical role of Cookie. The same holds true for Angel Desai's Susan. Jessica Collins, who's making her Off-Broadway debut, shows enough promise for me to look forward to seeing her again but in a better play. Neither of the young men have enough to do to make a strong impression.

Louisa Thompson, whose work I've admired since her ingenious scenic design for sic (sic review), has provided a richly detailed living room-hallway-kitchen which somehow also evoke mental images of Marge's previous East Village digs. Paul Whitaker's lighting, and Jenny Mannis' costumes all contribute to class A production values. Unfortunately, neither the production's physical excellence nor Deidre O'Connell's heroic performance can keep this over-extended play from making the audience yearn to take flight well before the slow to arrive end.

MANIC FLIGHT REACTION
by Sarah Schulman
Directed by Trip Cullman
Cast: Cast: Jessica Collins (Grace), Angel Desai (Susan), Michael Esper (Luke), Austin Lysy (Albert), Deirdre O’Connell (Marge), Molly Price (Cookie/Claire.
Set Design: Louisa Thompson
Costume Design: Jenny Mannis
Lighting Design: Paul Whitaker
Sound Design: Fitz Patton, Harris Skibell

Running time: 2 hours plus an intermission
Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, (212) 279-4200 www.playwrightshorizons.org
From 10/20/05 to 11/20/05; opening 10/30/05.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2:00 & 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2:00 & 7:00 PM.
Tickets: Tickets are $40 with a limited number of tickets offered on a walk-up, cash-only, first-come, first-served basis, starting one hour before showtime; HOTtix, $20 rush tickets, subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before showtime to patrons aged 30 and under, $15 student rush tickets subject to availability on day of performance.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on October 30th matinee performance
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