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A CurtainUp Review


If Martha Stewart or the Ethan Allen Stores gave out an Award for Smartly Decorated stage sets, Plunge would surely be a contender. The living room of Rob Odorisio's cheerful Connecticut country house where Christopher Kyle' has assembled three early thirty-ish college friends, plus one spouse and one lover is a perfect blend of beamed ceilings, stone fireplace, cozy and brightly upholstered furniture. With the picture window revealing enough of a well tended garden leading to a pool (the title's literal manifestation), you couldn't ask for a more ideal setting for a pleasant Labor Day weekend.

True to its country weekend comedy genre roots, the neatly appointed and tranquil setting is counter balanced by the less than neat and tranquil connections between Clare Dunn (Ashley Crow) and her guests. True to its country-weekend-crossed-with-college-reunion genre, there's one new-to-the-group and twenty-ish outsider, Jim (Timothy Olyphant) whose presence turns the get-together into a weekend of unwanted truths and consequences.

Judged on the basis of its plot, Plunge comes up short on originality--a new entrant into a playing field that includes practically every real college graduate to be found at health clubs, offices and tenth year college reunions; plus characters from past plays, movies and television sitcoms. To tell you what it's about without giving too much away:

Clare's weekend party at the country home of her father and stepmother comes at a time when she and they are at a crossroad (though they don't recognize the markers). Clare has risen to the post of vice-president in daddy's financial empire, the strain of trying to get out of his shadow has kept her personal relationships from penetrating deeper than the level of meaningless sexual encounters. Her last two such encounters -- one a terrible mistake and the other a potential for something more -- lead to two of the several unsettling revelations that tumble from unguarded lips during the course of the weekend.

Clare's best woman friend, Val (Jessica Hecht) and her husband Harris (Taylor Nichols) have packed their marital conflicts into their overnight bags, along with environmental do-gooder Val's quandary about whether to take the plunge -- (Yes, Virginia, titles like this are always fraught with symbolic second meanings) -- into the world of profit and pollution.

The third college chum in the reunion is the under-achieving, razor-tongued do-nothing Matty (Bruce Norris-- Rainn Wilson substituting) who has the play's best lines. To help throw everyone off kilter, there's also Jim the Temp who the only happy camper--or is he?
Judged by the characters Kyle has carved from these types , the laugh--line punctuated dialogue and the excellent performances, Plunge is better than its resemblance to things past and all around you would indicate. The subject and the characters may not be the stuff of a not-to-be-missed play, but the actors invigorate them with spirit and director Ron Lagomarsio ties everything and everyone neatly together.

Ashley Crow and Taylor Nichols are fine as Clare and Harris. Timothy Olyphant making his first appearance as Jim the "happy" Temp has the right good looks to fit the role and promises to handle the part capably for the rest of the run. Having seen Bruce Norris in An American Daughter (see link at end of review), I could easily picture him as Matty. However, Rainn Wilson's stand-in take on the role had the same sharp edge but with a nice touch of vulnerability. Jessica Hecht left a strong impression on me as the emotionally fragile Lala Levy in Last Night At Ballyhoo -- (See our review link to this play which was also directed by Ron Lagomarsino below). Hecht is even better as Val. Her face during the various revelations tumbling forth like so many little bombshells is a map criss-crossed with a cornucopia of emotions.

The production values, (notably Donald Holder's lighting and Jennifer Von Mayrhauser's costumes), are all top notch. Mr. Odorisio deserves special credit for the secondary sliding flashback set with its amusing gold framed picture wall. On a stage this small this kind of moving scenery is a near miracle..

If Plunge is not as penetrating or made for the ages as country house comedies by Wilde and Shaw, how many plays are? If the loose ends remain untied, and each character remains as flawed and conflicted about taking a plunge (the title metaphor again!), that is the playwright's intent as stated in an interview with Playwrights Horizon artistic director Tim Sanford -- (if you go, be sure to pick up a copy on your way out). --. As Kyle explains in that interview:

The only resolution in life I'm aware of is death. The dramatic epiphany (the traditional moment of self-awareness in plays) doesn't reflect life as I've experienced it. Most people I know muddle through, missing their chances, only to see later, at great remove, the mistakes they've made. In Plunge we see five people at pivotal moments in their lives. The fact that most of them aren't aware they're experiencing pivotal moments seems very real to me.

Since the playwright is at the beginning of his career, one can only hope that next time around, he'll see fit to invest his talents in people he can take beyond the dead end he foresees for his current quintet. That would bring him closer to the kind of growth seen in the career of a much older comic playwright, Neil Simon. Interestingly, Simon's latest and, if he's to be believed, his last play, also happens to be a country weekend comedy. Les Gutman's review of Proposals which arrives at the Broadhurst at the end of the month leads off his October DC-Report.

Plays mentioned in the above review that were reviewed at CurtainUp
Last Night At Ballyhoo
An American Daughter
Proposals (in DC)

By Christopher Kyle Directed by Ron Lagomarsino
With Ashley Crow, Jessica Hecht, Taylor Nichols Bruce Norris, and Frederick Weller.
Playwrights Horizons' Wilder Theater, 416 W. 42d St. (279-4200)
For details about this theater company's background and mission see the box at the end of our review of Baby Anger
9/05-10-12 (opens 9/28) 10/08 Closing extended to 10/19 and Frederick Weller replaced by Timothy Olyphant
Reviewed 10/08 Elyse Sommer

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