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A CurtainUp Review
Rag and Bone

A mound of refuse or the sweeping of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladders gone
I must lie down there at the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

---William Butler Yeats, 1939

Matthew Stadelmann and Michael Chernus
M. Stadelmann
and M. Chernus
(Photo: Sandra Coudert)
Neither the word "rag" nor the word "bone" appear in the script of Noah Haidle's sophomore Off-Broadway effort. The inspiration for the play, it seems, is the Yeats quote set out above.

This is the second Haidle play I have read and seen. Like the first, Mr. Marmalade, it reads better than it plays. Rag and Bone aspires to be quite a bit more of a play than it turns out to be. And Haidle seems to aspire to be more of a writer than he turns out to be. It is to that gap that my mind kept returning as I watched the endeavor.

The play might have been called Hearts and Ladders, because those are two things that do figure prominently in it. Or Chutes and Ladders, because that's the sort of game Jeff (Matt Stadelmann), the "slow" brother, might have enjoyed. Or maybe because it is the kind of nonsense Haidle injects, for no apparent reason. Have you ever read a line in a Yeat's poem that seemed to be there for no apparent reason?

So Jeff has a brother, George (Michael Chernus). Together (their mother is dead, Haidle doesn't bother to mention a father), they run a ladder store. But unbeknownst to Jeff (for a while anyway), George also traffics in human hearts. The rules of the game are simple: you can't climb a ladder to heaven (or even to the moon for that matter), you don't need a heart to keep talking, but when you buy one from George, you get the original owner's soul as well. And so the fun begins. Haidle supplies a poet (Henry Stram, now heartless), a millionaire (David Wohl, he gets a poet heart, temporarily), a hooker and pimp (Deidre O'Connell and Kevin Jackson, their story is complicated and not really worth retelling) and a few others (Audrey Lynn Weston, definitely not worth explaining).

Every time Haidle inches up on a complete thought, he dredges up something predictable to divert our attention. At the intermission, things are propelled downhill as the lovely Mr. Chernus dons his mama's dress. ("Slow" Jeff is apparently smart enough to transplant Mama into his bro.)

For the second time in a row, Haidle does not seem well served by his director. Sam Gold frankly doesn't seem to have much of an idea what the play is supposed to be, so he gives us something like a compromise between ironic surrealism, which is clearly wrong, a dose of real realism (but never for long) and something akin to a vaudeville, with punctuated laugh lines, sound effects, song and dance, which is clearly not right. He does not so much direct the actors as remind them what they did in other shows. This is especially true of the two ladder entrepreneurs who have not been long gone from the Rattlestick stage where they both appeared in American Sligo. I know that these actors -- in fact, all of these actors -- can do better.

Dane Laffrey's set manages to get a remarkable amount of service out of Rattlestick's stage, and works exceptionally well. Costumes, lights and sound are also absolutely fine.

In the end, we are left with nothing more than we were promised, a foul rag and bone. As in Mr. Marmalade, one can't help but think there is something more waiting to flow from the playwright's pen. I leave you then with Yeats again:
The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.
Will we ever discover what's in this young playwright's heart, or will he continue to hide behind stick figures and banal diversions?

Mr. Marmalade

Rag and Bone
by Noah Haidle
Directed by Sam Gold
with Michael Chernus, Kevin Jackson, Deidre O'Connell, Matthew Stadelmann, Henry Stram, Audrey Lynn Weston and David Wohl
Set Design: Dane Laffrey
Costume Design: Oana Botez-Ban
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Sound Design: Eric Shim
Fight Choreographer: David Anzuelo
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with 1 intermission
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place (Perry/W11, NW of 7th Avenue)
Telephone (212) 868-4444
Opening November 20, 2007, closes December 16, 2007
Wed - Sat @8; Sun @5; $40
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 11/18/07 performance

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