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A CurtainUp Review
Out of the Mouth of Babes
By Elyse Sommer
Mr. Horovitz has concocted an intriguing situation that offers meaty roles to four variously aged actors.
The dialogue for their unanticipated get-together to attend the funeral of a man who at one time or another was their husband or lover is funny enough to have the audience's laughter at times drown out some of it. . .
Like any story about death, the humor has the potential for poignancy.
Best of all, Estelle Parsons and Judith Ivey are on board to play the two oldest of these former lovers and wives.
Parsons and Ivey are in top form as the crusty senior half of the cast— Parsons, who made her acting debut at the Cherry Lane in 1962 and starred in two other Horovitz plays, as 88-year-old Evelyn (her own age); and Ivey as 68-year-old Evvie,. They receive fine support from Angelina Fiordellisi as the emotionally fragile 48-year-old Janice and Francesca Choy-Kee as Marie-Belle who at 38 is the youngest and most upbeat of the foursome.
Neil Patel's handsome, art filled Paris loft apartment of the now dead amorous Sorbonne Professor is a character in its own right. And, of course, the elephant in the room is the dead man whose ability to live well, collect art and attract women much younger than him until his demise at age 100.
If Out of the Mouths. . . were a pilot for a TV sitcom it might well have the makings of another Golden Girls spiced up with a Paris location. However, while the situation escalates amusingly and the dialogue and performances are consistently good throughout the two hours, what happens between the intriguing first and last scene isn't a play truly worthy of these stellar thespians. There's too much reliance on over-the-top shtick. The more serious theme Horovitz possibly had in mind about these women being the dead man's means for bridging the gap between his life and death also relies on contrivance.
The opening duet between Parsons and Ivey smartly, and with a barrage of pointed zingers, sets the scene for how and why they're here and why what they have in common hardly seems like the stuff for turning them into friends. As to how they both happen to be in the same place. . each has flown in from the U.S. for the funeral courtesy of an invitation and free round trip flight ticket from someone neither of them know. The women's wary interaction defines their personalities, and amusingly fills us in on the beginning and end of their tenures in this apartment.
Angelina Fiordellisi's neurotic Janice serves as a good counterpoint to the sarcasm of the older women. She's the most intellectual of the assembled ex-lovers but also the one responsible for the shticky elements.
Francesca Choy-Kee's Marie-Belle is the last on scene. Senegalese born and now very French, she's actually the dead man's last wife responsible for the women's presence at his funeral and possibly longer. The attractive Choy-Kee is a bit too shrill and her mission as the great lover's executor is what establishes the play more as a sitcom pilot than a genuinely star-worthy stage comedy.
Director Barnet Kelman, whose experience with sitcoms includes the pilot for Murphy Brown, expertly keeps the laughs coming so that the Cherry Lane audience into a veritable laugh track. Paul Miller's lighting enhances Neil Patel's beautiful loft and the women are dressed just right for each episode (oops, I mean scene) by Joseph G. Aulisi.
The play's assets notwithstanding, some plot details come off as either irrelevent or too shamelessly over the top. Consider the fact that the amorous professor was Jewish. In the first scene a large mirror is covered with a sheet as is customary mourning practice in a Jewish home. The sheet is ripped off by one of the women in the next scene. This establishes that none of them e are Jewish but it does give them a chance to amusingly look into that mirror and reflect with horror at how time has changed them.
Horovitz, whose play include the trilogy, Growing Up Jewish, seems to have shelved any idea for further connecting the dead man's religion or lack thereof to anything else. I suppose the four women's first-ever meeting in their dead lover's home and their gossipy, bitchy, recollections in some ways resemble a Shivah, a Jewish ritual during which family members and friends talk about the dead.
The women's reflections include a story about one of the many paintings covering the walls of the room and another about a cat Evvie accidentally set on fire. While everyone is sad at that cat's fate, none of the many regrets put forth touch on the fact that none of these unions with "He" resulted in children. As no one seem to be bothered by this. Yet, as other liaisons are unveiled it's hard to believe that this man who loved women never produced an heir. But then, if this really were a successful sitcom pilot, that, as well as that dead cat, could well be the stuff of quite a few episodes.
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Out Of The Mouths Of Babes by Israel Horovitz
Directed by Barnet Kellman
Cast: Estelle Parsons (Evelyn), Judith Ivey (Evvie), Angelina Fiordellisi (Janice), Francesca Choy Kee (Marie-Bell).
Scenic Designer: Neil Patel
Costume Designer: Joseph G. Aulisi
Lighting Designer: Paul Miller
Sound Designer: Leon Rothenberg
Action Coordinator: Rick Sordelet
Stage Manager: Christine Catti
Running Time: 2 hours includes an intermission
Cherry Lane Theatre 38 Commerce St.
From 6/07/16; opening 6/19/16; closing 7/31/16 Wednesday @ 3pm & 7pm,Thursday & Friday @ 7pm, Saturday @ 3pm & 7pm, and Sunday @ 7pm. no performance on 6/26; added Perf on 6/28 at 7pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 6/17 press preview
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