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A CurtainUp Review

The Urn
By Barbara K. Mehlman

We all know the joke about the actor who became an "overnight" sensation after 20 years of hard work. Well, with Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, (our review)we have the dream-come-true story of Peter Ackerman, a 28-year-old playwright who became an overnight sensation, overnight.

Ackerman, a Yale graduate and fledgling actor, was an understudy inVisiting Mr. Green, last year's Off-Broadway hit with Eli Wallach. When he mentioned to the show's publicist that he also wrote plays, said publicist asked to see a sample and liked his style enough to tell him that while he did't like the play Ackerman showed him, he did like the style and would like to see something else. Things You Shouldn't Say was that something else. It was passed on to Jean Doumanian, Woody Allen's producer, and the next thing Ackerman knew, he had a director, a cast, and one of the most desirable off-Broadway houses available. No dues to pay. No begging for money. No store front production. No out-of-town tryouts. This play went right to a first-class theater.

Naturally, when Peter Ackerman's newest play, The Urn, began performances at the Irish Arts Center in New York's Hell's Kitchen, I went with high expectations, giving little thought to the "one-hit wonder" theory. But now, I don't know.

The opening scene of the play sets up the possibility for something provocative and darkly funny. As the first scene opens, we see a family sitting in their serviceably furnished living room, contemplating an urn in silence. After a few pregnant moments, conversation erupts and we learn that the father of the family has died leaving a will specifying that a his urn must never be opened. This posthumous directive seems to invite the temptation to do the opposite. Gwen (Patricia Buckley), the older daughter decides she has to look into the urn. Her sister, Jennifer (Schuyler Grant), an immature 19, becomes hysterical and refuses to let Gwen near the urn. Into the fray comes Joshua (Scott Prendergast), their brother, who also wants to look in the urn.

Their mother (Barbara Rubenstein), who is present during all this, goes serenely about her business, making sandwiches, without speaking or reacting to what's going on around her. But there is a cryptic smile on her face which is undecipherable to the audience, and unnoticed by her family. We know she knows something, but there are no clues. Grandpa (John Wylie) just wants to know when he's going to get those sandwiches.

Scene one ends during this internecine battle, and the lights come up on scene two, revealing a second urn but no mother. Scene three ties up all the loose ends. There's not much else to say about The Urn but I can't help wondering if that the first play that Ackerman showed the publicist was The Urn. If so he should have taken his evalulation seriously.

THE URN: A Black Comedy
By Peter Ackerman
Directed by Robert Davenport
With: Patricia Buckley as Gwen; Matthew Lawler as Clifford; Schuyler Grant as Jennifer; Scott Prendergast as Joshua; Barbara Rubenstein as Mother; John Wylie as Grandpa; Greta Storace as Claire; Frank Vogt as Will
Set Design: Andrew Holland
Lighting Design: Les Dickert
Costume Design: Erika Furey
At the Irish Arts Center, 553 W. 51st Street
Remaining Performance Dates: July 20-24, may be extended; opened on July 10, 1999
Seen 7/9/99 and reviewed by Barbara K. Mehlman

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