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A CurtainUp Review
David Lohrey

You're in perfect health. There's no reason you can't live another 30 or 40 years ---Doctor

Then what? ---Man
New Jersey Repertory Compny, in case it is new to you, is one of those rare breeds: a theatre that produces new work. The great experiment known as regional theatre never really delivered what its visionary founders promised. Multi-million dollars facilities ensured that only revivals could keep the endowed seats filled, so that playwrights have had to hustle to find homes for their work. Michael T. Folie has found a loyal following down in Long branch, New Jersey. Panama is receiving its world premiere there this summer, although it has received numerous development readings, including the one I saw in Dallas, Texas two years ago.

Folie is part of what I see as a new wave of contemporary theatre and film artists whose principle concern, whatever their chosen genre, seems to be the simultaneous inventiveness and self-destructiveness of modern Americans. One sees this in the plays of David Lindsey-Abaire and in the recent film Sunshine State by John Sayles. These artists are alert to the implications of turning all history, tradition, and culture into a heritage-based theme park called America. Folie's newest work sees our society, indeed mankind itself, as perched on a slim strip of land between the opposing oceans of the past and the future. This panama of reality is where his play takes place. The play's surface is mad-cap, but its meanings run deep.

The play doesn't so much start as it ignites, with what is for me a terribly clever exchange between Man (Gary Lamadore) and his Doctor (Ames Adamson). Doctor declares the middle-aged Man in perfect condition and tells him that there is no reason why he shouldn't live another 30 years, maybe 40. To this, Man responds first by panicking. Then, he strangles the Doctor. Finally, he takes his Wife (Maura O'Brien) and embarks on a car trip across the country to find his parents and the meaning of life.

This car trip quickly includes a young couple (Jacob Garrett White and Rozie Bacchi) and Man's parents (Neal Arluck and Ian August). Together they leave the parents' Arizona retirement home and head for the Samuel Beckett Happy Day's Theme Park. Each has his own personal quest, but Man remains the leader who learns along the way what the knowledge of certain death can mean for life. Among his lessons is the realization that without death life is meaningless. Before hearing the doctor's diagnosis of perfect health and certain death, Man's life had been pointless. Mortality makes Man happy. The play's metaphysics holds the plot together.

The production works, but only some of the time. It troubled me that Man and Grandpa were the same age, both middle-aged and both silver gray on top. Grannie (Ian August), on the other hand, is played as 70+ by a young man in drag. Man is 60's generation hip, while his Wife is 1950s prudish, and dresses like an Iowa farmwoman. The youngsters are Gen-X stereotypes.

The very able Ames Adamson plays numerous parts. He is a perfect Cop, a brilliant Hollywood Producer, but his Theatre Director is over the top. Indeed, his costume was so exaggerated as to lack definition. Jesus Christ (Brian O'Halloran) makes his numerous appearances, but never with obvious purpose or meaning. In so many small ways, the play's subtle humor and acute intelligence are pulled out of focus by the heavy-handed troopers under the direction of Steward Fisher. The set design seems far more gratuitous than the play's profanity and violence, which seem tame by today's standards. Nonetheless, Folie should be pleased to have found a home for his considerable talent. The story he tells may seem slight, but by the end of the evening all of your assumptions have been undermined. Think of it as Philosophy 101 on laughing gas.

Written by Michael T. Folie.
Director: Steward Fisher
Cast: Ames Adamson, Neal Arluck, Ian August, Rozie Bacchi, Gary Lamadore, Maura O'Brien, Brian O'Halloran, Jacob Garrett White.
Scenic Design: Yoshinori Tanokura.
Lighting Design: Michael A. Reese.
Running Time: 2 Hours with one 15-minute intermission
New Jersey Repertory company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey (732) 229-3166.
Opens 6/21/2002 thru 7/28/02. Thurs through Sat at 8pm; Sun. at 2pm.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 6/30/02.
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