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A CurtainUp Review
Actually, this is not so much a review as an obituary. You see, Prymate closed just two days after I saw it, after 23 previews and five regular performances. I'll confess that seeing this ill-conceived play which should never have opened on Broadway, left me so convinced that it couldn't possibly last, that I held off on writing a review.
Having seen and liked Mark Medoff's Children of a Lesser God in which Phyllis Frelich also co-starred, I really wanted this to be better than the dismally poor attendance at the previews (as well as the press performance I attended) indicated. However, even Andre De Shield's game decision to play a gorilla and to do so quite well, couldn't save Prymate from collapsing on itself, and ending on a messy, incredible and totally tasteless note.
To recap, even if at this point it's only for the record: The title character of Medoff's drama is a gorilla named Graham. As for the spelling, yes, a spell checker will mark prymate wrong but it's correctly used here when you consider that Graham has been the subject of much prying by the two researchers with whom he shares the stage -- Esther (Phyllis Frelich), who is deaf and has taught Graham to become sign language literate as well as to dance an occasional Lindy with her; and Avrum (James Naughton), who sees him as a means to finding an AIDS vaccine. This adds up to a custody battle to determine not just who can do what to Graham-- but, by extension, who can do what to whom? To spice things up Mr. Medhoff made Esther and Avrum lovers and sent Avrum to Esther's lair with Allison (Heather Tom), an attractive young sign language interpreter in tow.
Filtering this battle of the sexes and gorilla custody through Allison's "signed"translation doesn't do much for the dramatic impact of all these issues. The taboo shattering towards the end of the second act is, to put it mildly, in the worst possible taste. It includes masturbation and urination, both involving the gorilla and the interpreter.
The actors do their best, as did the designers, but to no avail. Theater goers would have done better to make a contribution to the animal rights fund than waste their time and money on this messy drama. Apparently, that's exactly what they opted to do, despite co-producer Chase Miskin's impassioned post-opening plea via a big ad in The New York Times in which he urged theater goers to "thrill to a bold new play" and to "come be engrossed." Mr. Mishkin has brought us some fine productions, but, alas, this was not one of them. When Andre DeShields failed to get a hoped-for Tony nomination for Best Actor, even Mr. Mishkin's enthusiasm couldn't justify pouring more good money into a hopeless cause.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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