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A CurtainUp Review
St. Scarlet

by Les Gutman
All parallel lines cross in a curved universe.

Mirrors figure prominently in life, and not infrequently in the theater. But few rise to the level of significance the one in Julia Jordan's interesting new play seems to possess. It's the only Cummins family heirloom anyone's willing to fight over, and it comes close to being an essential character, even though it of course has no lines. If the mirror could talk, what might it say? Take a look at yourself. Do you know who you are?

The matriarch of the Cummins clan (Joan Jaffry Poust), who also has no lines (and who dies in an upstairs bedroom shortly after the play begins), wields considerably influence on the proceedings, most of it posthumously. It's an unusual play this, in which that which we see and hear ultimately means less than that which we don't.

The story to which we are treated (at turns funny, moving and trite) deals with the three dischordant siblings of this Irish Catholic family stuck in chilly Minnesota: Rose (Rosemarie DeWitt), the wandering child who left home early, and returned pretty wound up; Ruby (Susan O'Connor), a self-styled idiot and genuine whack job who never left home; and Seamus (Michael Chernus), the put-upon brother who married -- horrors -- a Lutheran named Elsa, and has a bundle of identity issues relative to his roots. (He now calls himself James, to his sisters' dismay.) Into this mix pops Vinny (Ivan Martin), a Brooklynite who picked this inopportune moment (some would say opportune) to get in his car and drive to Minnesota to fetch Rose, a woman he met once under hazy circumstances and with whom, he thinks at least, he has been exchanging love letters ever since. Things are not always as they seem, you should be warned.

Vinny, confrontational on many levels, prompts a good deal of self-examination. But Ms. Jordan has shuffled the deck several times, so too much prognostication before the final scene is pretty much a losing proposition. Jordan is a good and clever storyteller and, though there is some tightening and sharpening that would have helped, her effort is largely successful. The direction of Chris Messina (better known and perhaps more talented as an actor) is generally well-considered, although it doesn't succeed in hiding the play's shortcomings, nor does it harmonize the performances especially well.

At the outset, we don't really know what to make of Ms. DeWitt's Rose. As the play moves along, she does a better job of defining her character's intransigence and eventual awakening. Susan O'Connor suffers no similar problem. Her Ruby is a masterpiece: animated, very funny and winning, she also supplies the play's greatest moments of poignancy. Mr. Chernus delivers more than his share of the show's laughs and renders its most believable character. At times, however, it seems Ms. Jordan has left him short-handed. That's not the problem with Vinny, though Mr. Martin only fleetingly substantiates his quirky role. Ms. O'Connor's performance is so strong, everyone else pales by comparison.

Eric Flatmo's set does a fine job of placing us in the household, a combination living room/kitchen that corroborates Ms. Jordan's sensibility in fine detail. Sarah Beers has provided costumes that are apt, and in Mr. Chernus's case even afford some humor. Lighting and sound design are both effective as well.

This is the first of four plays by Julia Jordan to be presented in New York in the new theater season. She reveals enough ideas here to make us eager to see what more she has up her sleeve.

St. Scarlet
by Julia Jordan
Directed by Chris Messina
with Michael Chernus, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ivan Martin, Susan O'Connor and Joan Jaffry Poust
Set Design: Eric Flatmo
Costume Design: Sarah Beers
Lighting Design: Joshua Bradford
Sound Design: Eric Shim
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes with 1 intermission
A production of Women's Expressive Theater
Ontological Theater, 131 East 10th Street (@ 2nd Av.)
Telephone: (212) 868-4444
TUES - SAT @8; $19
Opening June 25, 2003, closing July 12, 2003
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 6/24/03 performance

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