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A CurtainUp Review
Unwrap Your Candy

That woman's a talker: A chatter-box with no 'off switch'. White noise passing as a person --- the chatterbox driving a well-dressed man wild is one of those annoying cell phone addicts in "Unwrap Your Candy"
The violin is real. Did we imagine the child? --- the professor of a mysteriously vanished violin prodigy at a bizarre auction that evokes a recital of the child's history from those who mourn his loss.
Wildwood Park is a private community. A discreet community. It is not some sordid theme park. . . It is not some dime store, penny-dreadful Stephen King ---Ms. Haviland putting an end to her prospective client's inquisitive tour of a house that could indeed appear in a King novel.
You're condemned to love me, regardless. . . 
--- The baby embodied in an adult body giving voice to a pregnant woman's worst fears.
L-R: Leslie Lyles, Darren Pettie, Henry Stram, Michi Barall,
Reg Rogers (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
"Call me old-fashioned but I like a play with a beginning, a middle and and end. . . with characters you'd be proud to have in your house." This is the taped voice-over attributed to an audience member unwittingly put in the spotlight during one of several brief interludes between a quartet of new plays by Doug Wright. If you share that opinion, you'd best unwrap your candy at a theater other than the Vineyard where Wright, best known for Quills, his mordant take on the Marquis DeSade, directs these offbeat explorations of the unaverageness bubbling beneath the average American man and woman you pass in the street.

Yet, the decidedly dark humor and the quirky characters you meet add up to just the sort of fare that provides a bit of diversion during these unfunny times. The five-member ensemble has captured these assorted eccentrics so perfectly -- with their looks and gestures as trenchantly rib-tickling as the dialogue -- that it's unlikely that anyone will follow the "Walk-Out", another interlude character, whose taped voice announces. "Just walked out. . .this seat's empty".

I'm tempted to single out Leslie Lyles for her awe-inspiring variety as three very different auburn-haired ladies: The fashionable hypoglycemic who frantically rummages through her bag for the candy she's been asked to unwrap ("Unwrap Your Candy"); the bewildered mother of a mysteriously departed child virtuoso who never even liked classical music and whose own career ambition was to be a dog groomer ("Lot 13: The Bone Violin)"; and the jumpy real estate woman charged with taking protective buyers through a house that was the scene of a much publicized bloody multiple killing ("Wildwood Park"). But good as Lyles is, Reg Rogers is terrific as her potential client, a mysterious doctor with an undidentifiable accent who has sniffed a bargain in the tabloid tragedy but may have even more sinister reasons for seeking out the realtor. Then there's Darren Pettie's as the unlikely title character of the roundup story ("Baby Talk"). As you can see, this is a case of an all-star cast.

While the overall quality of the dialogue is outstanding, the plays, don't always make as strong an impact as the actors. "Unwrap Your Candy" amusingly sets the mood but its genre is more comedy sketch than play. This slightness is easily overlooked given its curtain raiser positioning. The middle plays, on the other hand, suffer from overweight, a flaw common to works directed by their authors (especially if they are also directing for the first time, as Wright is here). Smartly bizarre as " Lot 13: The Bone Violin" is, it needs some real blue pencilling to keep its edge. This lack of editing also detracts somewhat from the Hitchcockian flavor of the "Wildwood Park". Even the excellent Lyles and Rogers can't circumvent some seemingly endless stretches in the otherwise well-paced and most memorable of the stories.

The program lists the running time at ninety minutes but the actual time from the opening salvo to the curtain calls is closer to an hour and forty-five minutes. Maybe Mr. Wright will trim the production down to the listed time and thereby eliminate those slowdowns in his otherwise well-paced tales. The interludes, like the middle plays, tend to be too much of a good thing. What's funny once or twice, tends to be less so the third and fourth time around.

The production itself needs needs no improvements. Michael Brown has given each segment just enough props to trigger the viewer's imagination. Phil Monat's lighting and David Van Tieghem's original music and sound design (the latter in collaboration with Jill DuBoff) add nice atmospheric touches. The actors are helped to establish their personae by Ilona Somogyi's costumes; for example, in "Wildwood Park", she has not only made Ms. Lyles a vision in low key beige and maroon chic but has coordinated her suit and sensible shoes with Mr. Rogers', raising a flag of suspicion that their quirks may also be in synch.

Like the title, none of these plays offer any hefty themes. They are theatrical mini-treats to enjoy while they last -- like a piece of delicious candy.

CurtainUp's review of Quills

Unwrap Your Candy.
Written and directed by Doug Wright

"Unwrap Your Candy" with Reg Rogers, Leslie Lyles , Michi Barall , Darren Pettie, Henry Stram.
" Lot 13: The Bone Violin", also with the full ensemble
"Wildwood Park "with Reg Rogers and Leslie Lyles
"Baby Talk" with Reg Rogers, Michi Barall , Darren Pettie and Henry Stram.
Set Design: Michael Brown
Costume Design: Ilona Somogyi
Lighting Design: Phil Monat
Original Music and Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission
Vineyard, 108 E. 15th St. 212/353-3366
9/18/01-9/27/01; opening 10/08/01
Mon-Friday at 8, Saturdays at 3 and 8 -- $45.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/06 matinee

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