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When the twin beds rolled out from the wall I assumed the worst. Here we go again, another hospital play. Is there any other contemporary genre more predictable? And yet, while this play is in so many ways an undistinguished example of this inescapably sentimental form, The Mooncalf surprises; its whip cream surface hides below a tangy filling.
This hospital is a most inhospitable place. The play opens with Kitty (Kathy Lichter) screaming her head off for more painkillers. She is dying of lung cancer. Her only visitor is daughter Miranda (Liz Morton), played as a sulking, foot-dragging monster of adolescent angst. An unkempt slob, Miranda not only smokes but, until the very end, refuses to cooperate in providing mommy with her desired bed side reconciliation. Sharing the room is patient Daffodil (Debrah Waller), a somewhat stereotypical African-American wise woman, who provides the expected working-class sweet to counter Kitty's middle-class sour. In a nice touch Daffodil adds weight to the proceedings when she wanders the hospital corridor in search of a responsive doctor. The abandonment of this harmless, helpful human being by the hospital staff opens the play to a wider world, showing another layer of abuse through neglect. These scenes neatly mirror the relationship between Kitty and Miranda, adding a measure of poignancy and depth to this otherwise claustrophobic play.
Much of the first act could be cut. The play doesn't really start until Miranda meets Donald (Steven Boyer) in the hospital lounge. Donald, suffering from Hodgkin's disease, is the antithesis of Miranda, a deeply repressed, fastidious wallflower who lives his life in the shadow of black and white movies from MGM's golden years. It is his destiny to be chased and seduced by Miranda. Their relationship inevitably brings them into contact with their respective mothers and out of this come the play's riches. Donald meets Kitty in a tender, strangely improbable scene that reveals their common discovery of old movies as an outlet for loneliness and desperation. Filled with clichés, this scene nonetheless shows us just how corny love can be. Miranda, on the other hand, finally meets her match in Cookie (Barbara Rosenblat), who is played as a suburban locomotive. Incapable of stopping, she runs over her son in one remarkable scene, and is prepared to do the same to Miranda, but is finally stopped in her tracks. Ms Rosenblat's performance is a miracle of comic savagery.
Director Warner has put together a strong cast, each in his or her way fully capable of realizing the full potential of playwright Karlin's script. The staging, however, shows too often a heavy-handedness whereby actors gesture mechanically, as though carrying out orders without purpose. Liz Morton in particular seems to have been directed with a club, forcing upon her an array of gestures and moves in conflict with her natural talent. At other times, Warner does well with both script and players, creating haunting scenes that stay with the viewer. My favorite was the extraordinary howling scene between Donald and Daffodil. Here everything comes together to create the right combination of tears and laughter that is this play's enduring recipe.
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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