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A CurtainUp Review
A Naked Girl On the Appian Way

Would you rather we were smokers? --- Thad, rationalizing the appropriateness of his recent actions to his father.

Jill Clayburgh
Jill Clayburgh
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Seeing Richard Greenberg's new play, A Naked Girl on the Appian Way almost a week after its official opening, it was impossible not to be aware that the first round of reviews were less than ecstatic. However, being a longtime Greenberg fan I've learned that even his less successful plays can never be written off as hopeless failures.

Three Days of Rain (to be revived later this season with Julia Roberts) and Take Me Out exemplify Greenberg Supreme while Everett Bekin represents Greenberg Lite. The final evaluation of The Violet Hour still awaits a better production than the Broadway premiere and The Dazzle was in my opinion underrated and is likely to move nearer to the supreme than lite category with time.

And so, what about Naked Girl? It's way too contrived to be ranked as Greenberg Supreme but it does what any Roundabout comedy, whether newly minted or a revival, does so well: It amuses and entertains through a combination of witty dialogue, elegant production values and a first-class cast.

One can't help wishing that an important playwright like Greenberg would have spent his time addressing the real issues exploding all around us. Yet, one also can't blame him for doing the playwright's version of "stop the world I want to get off" with an attempt at a part Noel Coward, part Neil Simon drawing room comedy, but with a soupçon of contemporary social issues(multi-cultural adoptions, sexual taboos, life in the self-absorbed fast lane of the rich, liberal, highly educated and culturally with it and emotionally brittle). But even the most farcical drawing room plot calls for characters that are not just types but believable and interesting enough to care about people and the banter and revelations served up with tea and homemade scones need to be grounded in credibility.

The occupants of the unnamed Hampton town drawing room (a spacious, two-story tall sunlit living room/kitchen as only the master of elegant stage decor John Lee Beatty can create) are the Lapins, a family custom-made for delivering Greenberg's one-liner stuffed dialogue: Cookbook author and TV celebrity mom, Bess (Jill Clayburgh); dad Jeffrey (Richard Thomas), who is easing his way through early retirement from business by joining the neighborhood industry of writing topical non-fiction with a book about the connection between business and art; their children, the dark-skinned Juliet (Susan Kelechi Watson), the light-skinned but light of brain Thad (Matthew Morrison) and the malcontent Asian brother brother Bill (James Yaegashi). To add a bit of traffic and considerable humor -- there are two neighbors, Lesbian Elaine (Leslie Ayvazian) and and her outspoken mother-in-law from hell Sadie (Ann Guilbert) who comes close to stealing whatever jewels this play has to offer as she feasts on lines like "I have always been both a feminist and a misogynist." (Many Roundabout subscribers are old enough to remember Guilbert from TV's The Dick Van Dyke Show on which she, also played a neighbor.)

As Jeffrey's proposed literary marriage of business and art "doesn't harmonize" neither does the news with which Thad and Juliet, after seventeen parent-funded months in Europe, harmonize with their parents' liberalism. Probably as shocking as the siblings' announcement about what they've been up to in Europe (think a much milder variation of Edward Albee's The Goat or the siblings in the current off-Broadway revival of John Fletcher's 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore) is their plan to never leave the family nest again. The Thad-Juliet situation is not only intensified by yet another surprise but leads to further secrets coming to light about the senior Lapins' seemingly idyllic marriage.

The cast gamely and charmingly wends its way through these farcical if never very believable doings. Jill Clayburgh dispels all those theories about women in their fifties and sixties becoming invisible. As she's retained her trim good looks and engaging wide smile, so she remains a warm and relaxed actress. The ever boyish Richard Thomas plays her asthmatic spouse with a nice mix of exasperation and wry humor, as when he comments on neighbor Elaine's two-volume treatise on menstruation with a quiet "Period." The pair manages to hint at some of the tension underlying the amusing opening scene repartee while she adeptly chops and dices the ingredients for a gourmet salad for the long absent son and daughter. No complaints either about the actors playing their racially mixed brood. Matthew Morrison is especially good as the most affectionate but dimmest Lapin offspring who seems much more suited to enjoying Italy with the slow-witted Clara who was his opposite in The Light in the Piazza than with his intellectual sister Juliet (another of Greenberg's character credibility gaps).

With the curtain falling three times as in an old-fashioned comedy, Greenberg may have intended this as a three-acter rather than the current intermissionless hour and 45 minutes which director Hughes should have persuaded him to trim by fifteen minutes. I left the American Airlines Theater filled with both admiration and disappointment: Admiration for Greenberg's very much intact ability to apply his considerable intellect to dialogue richly embellished with witticisms. Disappointment that neither the handsome production, the attractive cast or one of New York's best directors couldn't t make this more than a mildly entertaining play, one that's less a "Wow!" than a "who cares?"

The American Plan
The Dazzle
Eastern Standard
Hurrah At Last
Hurrah At Last/Greenberg, Richard 
Take Me Out -- London & NY
Take Me Out-- LA (Los Angeles)
The Violet Hour/Greenberg, Richard
Everett Beekin

By Richard Greenberg
Directed by Doug Hughes
Cast: Jill Clayburgh, Richard Thomas, Matthew Morrison, Susan Kelechi Watson, James Yaegashi, Leslie Ayvazian, Ann Guilbert.
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Original Music and Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, without intermission
Roundabout's American Airlines Theater, 227 West 42nd Street, (212) 719-1300 or
From 9/13/05 to 12/04/05; opening 10/06/05.
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Wed, Sat & Sun at 2pmexcept Oct 18 - 28 at 7pm.
Tickets: $31.25 to $81.25

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/11/05 performance
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