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A CurtainUp Review


To start you wondering there's the Playbill cover with its picture of the father of our country wearing a mask. To immediately put you at the edge of your seat, there's the sound of Peter Kater's disturbing music and Lyle Kessler's protagonist experiencing a nightmare during which the backdrop of the stage is transformed into a picture of Indians on horseback. These are just the first of many symbols scattered throughout this stylishly staged, well-acted Comedy Noir, absurdist-realist jigsaw puzzle.

The central piece in the puzzle is a young Nebbish from Brooklyn, (Flatbush), on a journey of self-discovery by way of a job as an undercover detective at a canning factory in another part of Brooklyn, (Bay Ridge). Michael Rappaport makes an auspicious Off-Broadway debut as the protagonist who, once he changes his name and his job becomes the object of not one but two girls' desires. The catalyst for Ted's journey as Kenny the sleuth is a mysterious bag of garbage that drives his father into a frenzy and suggests a bit of somewhat obvious word play symbolism: prophylactics=rubbers=robbers. The garbage bag leads Ted to the home of his future boss, an elegantly robed Mohegan Indian named Feathers who is played to the comic hilt by Jonathan Hadary.

As the plot continued to thicken, I felt as if I'd tripped into a comedy wrought from Paul Auster's cult book, New York Trilogy. But while Auster's pseudo-detective became more and more remote, Ted-Kenny's adventures are grounded in very real and earthy dialogue and action. His dilemma about where his loyalties belong is fairly straightforward. But then there are the other characters we encounter, none of whom fit a what- you-see-is-what you get model. The canning factory owner, (also played by Jonathan Hadary), slips from one religion into another. His sexy daughter, (Reiko Aylesworth), takes on the guise of whatever identity dad assumes. Her manner is aggressive but she turns out to be as vulnerable as Ted-Kenny's canning factory love, Cleo (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Vinny, (Paul Ben-Victor), the Italian who becomes Kenny's confidante in and out of the factory is really a Puerto Rican. What's more, his handling of the thefts Kenny is hired to uncover is not quite in keeping with the Robin Hood credo he espouses. If anything is self-evident in this symbol-heavy sleight-of-mind drama, it's that no one and nothing is ever clear-cut and self-evident. To borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, it's all a riddle. wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. And it's fun, well-acted and wonderfully theatrical--important factors to keep in mind since the serious subtext beneath the comic surface is a muddle of less than enlightening or world shaking conclusions. Ted-Kenny's epiphany falls a mile short of effecting a great personal change.

There are some more good scenes during this concluding segment such as Kenny's return to the father who no longer recognizes him. In the overall schematic of the drama though, the more serious scenes simply don't work as effectively as the amusing bits and the whole mix of absurdist comedy and realism are at odds with each other.

Robbers arrived at The American Place Theater full of the high expectations that tend to accompany plays that have had trial runs at distinguished venues like the Seattle Rep and Long Wharf. Add to this the clever and costly set by Loren S. Sherman and the name of Marshall W. Mason as director, and you'll understand the buzz that preceded the opening. If this led you to expect something really important, you'll find the play doesn't deliver the goods as promised. However, if you don't look to Robbers for astonishingly original inisights but accept it for the stylish entertainment it offers, you won't feel robbed of either the time or money spent seeing it.

Lyle Kessler, Playwright
Marshall W. Mason, Director
Cast: Reiko Aylesworth, Paul Ben-Victor, John Doman, Jonathan Hadary, Michael Rappaport, Elizabeth Rodrigue
Peter Kater, Original Music
Loren Sherman, Set Designer
Laura Crow, Costume Designer
Phil Monat, Lighting Designer
Jim van Bergen, Sound Designer
American Place Theatre, from 2/23/97 to 3/02/97-- a total of 9 performances
Reviewed by , Elyse Sommer

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