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A CurtainUp Review
Museum by Elyse Sommer
Bob Lamb: As the costs of running museums keeps rising, the price of admission is bound to go up. . . The only way people will be able to afford visiting museums in the future will be chartered groups. The $50 'Budget' chartered tour will include admission into the Metropolitan, the Modern and the Whitney. . . 
Will Willard: I would pay $50 to avoid a 'Budget' Chartered Tour. . . 
These two arbiters of taste have some of the funniest interchanges during the not very silent last day of an exhibition ironically titled "The Broken Silence."
Tina Howe's 1978 satire of the modern art world features 42 characters and takes place on the final day of a modern art exhibit on the third floor of a renowned but unnamed Manhattan art museum. The exhibit, entitled "The Broken Silence" consists of four all-white (in short, blank) paintings; a group of small, decorative but menacing constructions scattered around the room; and a clotheline running across one side of the room from which a number of realistic, clothed figures (think Duane Hansen) are left out to dry

As Howe explained in her author's note for the play's premiere at the Shakespeare Festival, her large cast of characters was created to provide directors and producers with endless staging possibilities. It could be done with just a handful of actors or with each actor playing a single role. The cast could also be enlarged to include a school or community group (like extras in a movie) which would "virtually recreating the crush of modern museum going."

The play's many roles have made Museum popular on the college theater circuit, but more problematic as a commercial production. Now, with the play's twenty-fifth birthday at hand, the Keen Company, which has in just two seasons established itself with such productions as Conor MacPherson's The Good Thief and John van Druten's The Voice of the Turtle, has elected to do a generously scaled revival with 23 actors. Moreover, the actors filling the exhibit on the stage of the beautiful Connelly Theater are more than up to the comedic challenge of Ms. Howe's witty script and the creative team that supported director Carl Foreman's most recent efforts again contributes apt sound and visual stagecraft. The sound effect that most tellingly reflects the worth of this ambitious undertaking is the audience's laughter at the often absurdist actions of Howe's museum goers. If the steady flow of loud laughs punctuating this past Saturday evening's performance is any indication, the Keen revival should make the Connelly a popular stop for anyone in the mood for eighty-five laugh out loud minutes.

Museum is more episodic than epic. While Howe makes some well-observed points about those who frequent art exhibitions and those involved in presenting them, this is first and foremost a fun play, with lots of show stealing opportunities for the performers. My own favorites where two counterpoint couples: a pair of fashionable women who come as much to be seen as to see and two gay men, Bob Lamb (Brennan Brown) and Will Willard (Tony Hale) who are snobbishly passionate about art.

Barbara Zimmer (Christa Scott-Reed) and Barbara Castle (Susan Blackwell) are ironically linked not only by their first names but by surnames (Zimmer is German for room) that slyly underscore their view of any paintings as decorative additions to their homes. Their heated discussion about whether the merits of "Landscape I " and "Seascape VII" in their respective family rooms and bedrooms ends with an easier to resolve discussion about what to order for lunch at the museum cafeteria, with spinach salad with dill dressing winning the day.

Bob Lamb and Will Willard are there strictly for art's sake which includes displaying their understanding of not only these artists but of all their compatriots. Their concerns extend to the economic problems of the art world, with the pessimistic Lamb outlining a doomsday scenario of escalating costs leading to sky-rocketing admissions prices as well as cuts in staff, hours and exhibits. Even funnier is their interchange when they get to the clothesline exhibit which includes a basket of clothespins:

Bob Lamb: "Oh, no, look at that! He put a basket of real clothespins under an imaginary clothesline! Now that's what I call . . .  panache!
Will Willard: You mean, Pastiche!
Bob Lamb: Willard, pastiche is collage, I mean panache!
Will Willard: Robert, the word is. . . panacea!. . . no, wait, paradigm!
Bob Lamb: (after some confusion on both sides) PARADIGM. . . ?

Whatever it's called, that basket of clothes pins is something of a universal magnet, with practically everyone at one point or another breaking the don't touch/don't take admonitions of the frustrated exhibition guard (Jimonn Cole). I could go on telling you about the other patrons who repeatedly break the silence of "The Broken Silence" — like the photographer (Chris Hutchinson) who's come to photograph the art before it is dismantled but ends up with as many shots of the viewers as what's on view; the couple who keeps getting tangled up in the audio tape (Nathan Guisinger and Jenny Maguire) and the docent (Kate Hampton) whose gobbledygook enthralls her naive audience. Suffice it to say that under Carl Foreman's expert direction, the entire ensemble makes this the most entertaining art exhibit in town. And at $15 a ticket, even Bob Lamb, couldn't complain about the cost of admission to this museum.

CurtainUp Reviews of other Keen Productions:
The Good Thief
Voice of the Turtle

Museum< by Tina Howe
Directed by Carl Forsman
Cast: Maxwell L. Anderson, Susan Blackwell, Brennan Brown, Elizabeth Bunch, Jimmon Cole, Teddy Coluca, Chris Denzer,Kate Firth, Jennifer Gibbs, Robyn Goodman, Nathan Guisinger, Tony Hale, Kate Hampton, Chris Hutchinson, Tim Kang, Lael Logan, Jenny Maguire, Marilyn Moore, Christina Parker, Dina Pearlman, Christa Scott-Reed, Jordin Ruderman, Andrew Schulman
Set Design: Nathan Heverin,
Costume Design: Theresa Squire,
Lighting Design: Josh Bradford
Sound Design: Stefan Jacobs.
Keen Company at Connelly Theatre, 220 E. 4th (Ave A & B) 212-560-7284
6/07/02-6/30/02; opening 6/09/02
Thu - Sat at 8pm; Sun at 5pm-- $15.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on June 8th performance.
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