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A CurtainUp Review
Sore Throats

by Elyse Sommer

I have heard that lovemaking can give you a swollen throat. I don’t want one. But the swing-boats, I have heard can give you a swollen throat, too. So I shan't be able to avoid it. --- Bertolt Brecht

Laila Robbins
Laila Robbins
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
A prolific and often controversial playwright, essayist, TV dramatist and poet Howard Brenton is well known in is native Great Britain where he's often lumped with playwrights like Caryl Churchill and David Hare (with whom he co-authored a successful black comedy called Pravda in 1986). Yet, Brenton is little known in this country.

Five years ago, Synapse Productions did mount an Off-Off-Broadway production of Bloody Poetry, a factional drama about two immortals of the Romantic Age, Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. That play impressed me enough to make me eager to see the Theatre for a New Audience production of his twenty-year old Sore Throats that just opened at the Duke Theater. Additional reasons to draw me to the play were that Evan Yionoulis would be directing and that Laila Robbins and Bill Camp would play the leading roles.

I'm not sure this difficult to take play is an ideal choice for raising Brenton's profile with New York audiences. While Sore Throats has plenty of shock value and the same sort of brutal edge of Edward Bond's Saved, another TFNA revival of a little known British play, the edge in this case is dulled because the marital situation comes off as somewhat dated -- yes, I know, the problems of wives abandoned for younger women and spousal abuse have hardly gone the way of the rotary telephone, but that doesn't keep Sore Throats from having a whiff of soap opera.

Even without my reservations about the immediacy of this situation, this is not for anyone looking for an entertaining, relaxing evening out. Yionoulis has a firm grip on these scenes from a marriage gone wrong long before it ends. Robbins and Camp give extraordinarily visceral performances and Meredith Zinner, with whose work I'm less familiar, is also excellent. What's more, the above Brecht quote from which the play takes its title is doubly apt since Sore Throat follows the Brechtian bent for hopscotching from stark realism to expressionistic fantasy.

This part realistic, part fantastic setup begins with a harsh opening scene in a completely bare apartment where we find Judy (Robbins) in a rage at being left by her policeman husband Jack (Camp). When Jack shows up he at first seems somewhat sheepish and guilty. But it turns out Judy is in for another blow as he's come to ask for half the money of the sale of their house so that he can go off to a new life with his new young lover. When his verbal request turns to more brutal means, we realize that these are the latest of many blows and that Judy's rage and despair goes back to having long ago ceded her will and spirit to a terrible relationship. Her clinging to this abusive relationship is horrifying, especially in this day and age when fewer women allow themselves to reach middle age without any real survival skills.

The arrival of Sally (Meredith Zinner), a hip young working girl, to rent the apartment, saves Judy from losing half the house sale money to the bullying Jack and paves the way for the more surreal second act which finds Judy and Sally now sharing a wildly hedonistic life style (supported by the money from the house sale), and the once completely bare apartment now a mind-boggingly abstract mess.

I'll refrain from spoiling things for anyone planning to see the play with more plot details. Yes, Jack does play a part in Judy and Sally's boozy sexcapade. And yes there is a resolution of sorts -- but no two people are likely to agree on whether it's a hopeless or hopeful one.

Bloody Poetry Brenton off-off-Broadway
Paul Brenton in London
TFNA's Saved

Playwright: Howard Brenton
Directed by Evan Yionoulis
Cast: Laila Robins (Judy), Bill Camp (Jack)and Meredith Zinner (Sally)
Set Design: Adam Stockhausen
Costume Design: Katherine Roth
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Mike Yionoulis
Running time:
Theatre for a New Audience at The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street 212 2396200
From 4/22/06 to 5/21/06; opening 4/30/06
Tuesday through Saturdays evenings at 8:00pm; Saturday matinees at 2:00pm on May 6, 13 and 20; Sunday matinees at 3:00pm on April 30 and May 7, 14 and 21. Sunday evening performances on 7:00pm April 30 and May 7.
Tickets: $60-- $10 tickets availabe on day of purchase at the box office window
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 4/30/06 performance
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