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|A CurtainUp Review
David Rothenberg is a genial, unassuming fellow. Yet he's a fine raconteur who, during his long career as a theatrical press agent, learned a thing or two about peppering his conversations with illustrious names. Thus he introduces himself in the audience with "I'm in repertory with D. H. Lawrence." The Daughter-In-Law, penned by that prestigious man of letters is indeed playing in the same theater where Rothenberg holds forth on his encounters with the many famous people he has come to count amongst his friends. However, the Mint Theater's repertory ratio tips in Lawrence's favor, since Rothenberg's gig is a once-a-week fill-in on the night the house is dark.
While Namedropping is about the theater and theater people and the namedropper on stage is a man of the theater, it's neither a solo play or even a staged reading, but an autobiographical lecture. The props -- a music stand next to the stool on which Mr. Rothenberg perches and a table holding a glass and a bottle of water -- are temporary additions to the set from The Daughter-In-Law. The music stand doesn't really hold a script but a legal pad with some reminder notes which he seems to need only very occasionally. After all our host-speaker has admittedly told these stories often to friends, and it was only to raise money for The Fortune Society (a self-help group for ex-offenders which he founded and nurtured) that he decided to turn his many anecdotes into a somewhat more formal presentation, initially put on just four times, but now extended to this Sunday night "in repertory" run at the Mint.
Rothenberg's non-actorliness abets the sense of unscripted informality, but make no mistake about it, the ninety minutes are artfully organized around the title theme, and there's a clear arc that takes us from Rothenberg's own first brush with fame as an 8-year-old at a football game, to his first PR job at a summer theater in Maine, to his work on big Broadway shows. The presentation is neatly calibrated to end at exactly ninety minutes.
Unlike some celebrity scripts and books, names aren't just haphazardly dropped into the lecture. The anecdote about Joan Fontaine, the first big star he got to know well on the job, illustrates the ephemeral quality of many seemingly warm publicist-star friendships. After a summer of close interaction with Fontaine, she didn't even remember when they met again in New York. This leads Rothenberg to wrily liken himself to "Mr. Cellophane" (the title of the famous Kander & Ebb song).
Other names dropped with the purpose of clarifying the psyches of stars generally include Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Peggy Lee. This is not a "Mommy Dearest" expose so most of those named come off well -- though, understanding people's appetite for dished dirt, Rothenberg does have some less than flattering comments about Lauren Bacall and recounts how both Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lancaster tried to seduce him. He also brings up the name of singer Mel Torme in order to reflect on the question about whether one can separate a person's "disappointing" politics from his talent as a performer.
One of Rothenberg's bosses, the producer Alexander Cohen, did a similar once-a-week autobiographical lecture five years ago. That venture, Star Billing, drew sufficient audiences for an extended run so who knows -- this new non-play may just, like The Daughter-In-Law and Far and Wide both of which are enjoying reprises after successful runs last season, prove the Mint Theater Company to be as successful at hosting outside ventures as producing long-forgotten treasures.
Reviews of the plays now at the Mint during their last season's run:
Far and Wide
Review of producer Alexander Cohen's Star Billing
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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