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A CurtainUp Review
Sitting Pretty

Have you ever done anything you've regretted, Nancy? -- Philip
I've never done anything at all. I regret that
-- Nancy

viva Jane Carlin
Nathan White, background
(Photo: Jonathan Slaff)
If you don't believe that a not particularly clever, middle aged woman who's fat enough to be Jack Sprat's wife can be absolutely enchanting, hurry up and buy a ticket for Sitting Pretty at the Hypothetical Theatre Company on 14th St. From the moment you meet Nancy, the down-in-the-dumps, frumpy heroine of British playwright Amy Rosenthal's astute coming-of-age-at-55 comedy, she will steal right into your heart.

The part of Nancy, a stenotypist, who's been set adrift in the land of the unemployed by a wave of corporate downsizing, is made to order for Aviva Jane Carlin. Some of you may remember her from Jodie's Body, her one-woman play in which she bared all -- flabby belly, massive thighs and pendulous breasts. In Sitting Pretty she does it again though rather more gradually. Also, while she's the only nude on stage, Ms. Rosenthal has written a full-bodied play (no pun intended). Ms. Carlin, with her expressive body language and the dark saucer eyes that speak volumes, is decidedly the star, but Sitting Pretty also includes four major and four minor additional parts, all fully realized by the assembled cast.

In immediate contrast to Nancy, who we first meet in a state of depressed immobility, we have her trim, peppy and gainfully employed (she studied art abroad and is a museum art lecturer) sister. Nina is portrayed with exquisitely rapid-fire timing by Tanny McDonald. It's Nina who, determined to get Nancy to stop moping around their flat and overdosing on pickled onions, persuades her to accompany her to the museum with an eye to taking a course. At first Nancy demurs saying she's too sad to move, that she feels "just heavy." When the trim Nina greets this with a wry quot;Oh, too heavy, well, yes" Nancy patiently and sadly explains "No I mean heavy inside. I can't see the future." While Nina seems to be the stronger member in of the never married sisters' household, with a Mr. Fix-It admirer (John O'Creagh in another winning performance), there's more than meets the eye to all her get-up-and-go. Still, the determined Nina prevails and we next meet Nancy coming out of her catatonic state over tea at the cafeteria of the National Gallery.

Nancy's tea turns into something of a tempest as she overhears a quarrel between a forty-eight-year painter named Philip ( the debonair Marc Jacoby) and his latest "involvement" a life model for his art classes named Zelda (Lina Roessler). Jacoby and Roessler inhabit their parts well, one only wishes their British accents sounded less as if they'd been practicing, like Diogenes, to speak with marbles in his mouth. At any rate, totally unaware what the job entails, the involuntarily retired stenotypist, takes Zelda's place. Nancy will never be quite the same again. Neither will Philip or Zelda, or the other members of the class.

As events move back and forth between stage right -- Philip's studio -- and stage left -- Nancy and Nina's flat which also doubles as the museum restaurant -- the twenty-six-year old playwright adeptly interweaves the Nancy-Nina-Max story with Philip's and Zelda's. She also develops the other art students into meaningful and sympathetic characters.

The dialogue is not only funny but full of incisive observations about youth, creativity, self-image and sibling and romantic love. Just when you think Nina has the best lines, along comes Zelda -- either telling off the womanizing Philip ("You move in. Take up residence, occupy my head. You move in like some ageing rocker . . .and when you're gone you're still there") or revealing her youthful fears to Nancy ("Sometimes I look at Dan, this boy I'm seeing, and I just wish we were old. I wish we'd done with all this, and we were out the other side, and safe, ad it was all behind us. Just stuff to tell the grandchildren"). But then Max and Philip speak out, even the cameo players get their turn at verbal bat.

Director Amy Feinberg has given Ms. Rosenthal's play the outstanding production it deserves. Designer Mark Symczak has turned the high-ceilinged stage into a fluid set, dominated by Philip's art studio. The draperies separating the studio and the sisters' flat is effectively used to turn the living room couch into the artist's model settee -- Nancy sitting in a pretty deep funk on the couch, and Nancy sitting pretty happy on the settee. As Nancy inspired Philip to paint her, so she has also inspired the set designer to paint her as the centerpiece of an exhibit of his work in the theater lobby. Melissa Schlachtmeyer's costumes for Nancy and Nina are right on the mark and praise is also due the lighting and sound designers.

Hopefully, the Hypethetical schedule is flexible enough to extend the run of this play so that it can reach a larger audience than the current schedule permits. As long as I'm being hopeful, here's hoping we'll see more plays bearing Amy Rosenthal's by-line.

CurtainUp's review of Jody's Body

by Amy Rosenthal
Directed by Amy Feinberg
Starring Aviva Jane Carlin- Nancy, Tanny McDonald - Nina ( Nora Brown 3/6-11), John O'Creagh-Max, Mark Jacoby-Philip, Lina Roessler-Zelda (Jo Haney (Thurs & Fri).
Other cast members: Marilyn Bernard, Dannah Chaifetz, Kate Konigisor, Charles Major and Nathan M. White.
Set Design and cover illustration: Mark Symczak
Lighting Design: Rych Curtiss
Costume Design: Melissa Schlachtmeyer
Sound Design:Tim Cramer
Dialect Coach: Amy Stoller
Running Time: 2 hours, plus 15-minute intermissions
Hypothetical Theatre Company,Sol Goldman Y, 344 E. 14th St., 206-1515--www.hypotheticaltheatre.org
2/14/01-3/11/01; opening 2/17/01
. Performances Wed, Th at 7: 00 pm, Fri (presale only) at 8:00 pm, Sat at 8:00 pm and Sun at 3:00 pm-- $15 in advance, $19 at door, tdf/v

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

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©Copyright, 2001 Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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