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A Mother, a Daughter, and a Gun
Iím feeling suicidal --- Jess
Who doesnít feel suicidal on a rainy day?---Beatrice

Olympia Dukakis & Veanne Cox
Olympia Dukakis & Veanne Cox
(Photo:Carol Rosegg)

It certainly appears to make sense to disconsolate Jess (Veanne Cox) to purchase a gun while she is out shopping for a blouse, especially as she intends to shoot her "erstwhile dependable trustworthy husband" who she has discovered is having an affair with a temp secretary at his office. But what do you do if you have no friends and have just won a prize at the market, a ham large enough to feed 20 people? Jessís response is to invite 20 strangers she has just encountered on her shopping spree to a party at her apartment. The one person she hasnít invited is her monster mother Beatrice (Olympia Dukakis, in her tongue-in-cheekily Chekhovian mode), who unexpectedly shows up. Jess, a veritable bundle of nerves and hysterical fits, is waving the gun in the air, as she opens the door. There are screams, a shot is fired and Beatrice has fallen behind a sofa. What? Can it be that the actor with top billing is D.O.A.?

No so fast. Neither Beatrice nor the self-destructive farce that she is in are dead on arrival. Some things take a while. Beatrice has merely taken momentary and precautionary cover. "Iím feeling suicidal," explains the continually twitching Jess who proceeds to show her mother the incriminating photos she has taken of her husband and his lover in action. "Who doesnít feel suicidal on a rainy day," responds Beatrice nonchalantly. We suspect correctly that she will have an answer to everything, except why Jess hates her more than anyone else in the world. This deep-seated hatred between mother and daughter surfaces as the not very compelling or persuasive subtext that propels the play.

For Beatrice the important thing at the moment is to get ready for the guests. The unkempt and inconsolable Jess looks like something the cat dragged in, and in not much better shape than her apartment. Somehow able to make light of Jessís psychotic behavior and having hidden the gun, Beatrice asks, "Can we clean up now?" and when Jess demands to know where the gun is and Beatrice tells her "I threw it away," Jess declares "You donít throw anything away you can return." All this after Jess has announced that she's pregnant and that she understands why Sylvia Plath stuck her head in the oven.

There will be a few more gun shots fired as there will be a few more funny one-liners in this mostly not-so-funny sit-com styled farce with tragic undercurrents written by Barra Grant, a former actress cum screen-writer/TV director. What there wonít be is a single solitary reason for anyone to care what happens next. Certainly not after Jess discloses that she has already thrown the ham away and intends to remain in her bedroom until everyone leaves. That is exactly what she does as various guests intrude on her privacy leaving the frenetically enthusiastic Beatrice with the job of keeping the assorted guests in the living room happy. She is also in charge of controlling the traffic of eccentrics to the bedroom where Jess takes occasional refuge under the bedcovers and piles of coats.

If the play doesnít offer an audience much in the way of entertainment, it does offer some in the supporting cast an opportunity to play two characters, as if one wasnít already too many. Stephanie Kurtzuba flips from playing Cheryl, a pot smoking playgirl to Eleanor, one half of a lesbian partnership afflicted with Tourette syndrome. Daniel Pierce zeros in on the more neurotic tendencies of Bob, a patient ("a sorry sack of shit") of the psychiatrist that they both share. Pierce also assumes the attributes of Stefan, a drunken Russian who mostly behaves like an escapee from an old Marx Bros comedy. Laura Heisler is satisfactory enough as Fran, the other lesbian who with her partner make a bid to adopt Jessís child. And Mario Campanaro as Juan, a stuck-on-himself samba dancer,swivels his pelvis from room to room with aplomb.

Of course, Beatrice cannot leave well (or is it ill?) enough alone. She has personally invited over Paul (David Bishins), a former high school acquaintance of Jess, in hopes that he might pick up Jessí spirits and also pick up where he left off 15 years ago. Paul, however, has no memory of being the one to whom Jess lost her virginity. But, he also has no qualms about attempting to seduce her again, despite the fact that his date Cheryl is also at the party. For those who remain for Act II, there is the treat of seeing George S. Irving, a veteran of the theater and an actor who knows how to make a meal out of a morsel. This, he does, as Alvin, Beatriceís husband, and as a warm and comforting presence to Jess to whom he reveals his own indiscretion.

Does Beatrice find out? Does Jessís husband David (Matthew Greer) show up and try to explain his indiscreet behavior? Is there more gunplay at the O.K. Corral? Donít neighbors complain, you may wonder? "It sounds just like opening champagne,"Ē goes one explanation.

Under Great Britain native Jonathan Lynnís indulgent direction, this seriously pathological comedy ultimately offers no evidence to support the presence of such otherwise fine actors as Dukakis and Cox. And Jesse Poleshuckís convertible set doesnít deserve what goes on in it. The best news is that nine actors have been provided with a job, though probably not for long.

By Barra Grant
Directed by Jonathan Lynn
Cast: Olympia Dukakis, Veanne Cox, George S. Irving, David Bishins, Mario Campanaro, Matthew Greer, Laura Heisler, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Daniel Pearce.
Set Design: Jesse Poleshuck
Lighting Design: Beverly Emmons
Costume Design: David C. Woolard Sound Design: T. Richard Fitzgerald & Carl Casella
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including intermission
Dodger Stages, 340 W. 50th St. 212 Ė 239 Ė 6200
From 10/14/05; opening 11/1/05
Saturday @ 8pm, Wednesday & Saturday @ 2pm, Sunday @ 3pm.
Tickets, $51 to $66. Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on 10/29/05 performance
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© 2005  Elyse Sommer.