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The Wax
I'm not sure I've ever felt complete with anyone . . . not even myself . . . especially not myself
--Kate who used to feel complete with Chris (and maybe will again!)

If a play can have the equivalent of a show-stopping tune in a musical, that showstopper in Kathleen Tolan's The Wax, is the monologue in which David Greenspan, as Ben, a critic with a well-honed instinct for self-dramatization, relates how he and Hal (Robert Dorfman) met and became a twosome. That scene has stayed with me since I first saw it in the play's workshop production at the HBPlayhouse in November 1999.

Greenspan has fine-tuned his exquisitely overstated portrait of a man whose cultural opinions flow from him like water from an open faucet. While his nonverbal and verbal virtuosity would be reason enough to see the just opened Playwrights Horizon production, there's no need to settle for a partial loaf. Ms. Tolan's play is an amusing look at the insecurities that dog contemporary couples of various sexual persuasions. Director Brian Kulick has assembled an expert ensemble of farceurs to play their big and small bits for laughs without obscuring the subtleties woven into the fabric of what is essentially a modern drawing room farce.

The pivotal event setting the comedy into motion is a wedding that has brought a group of middle-aged friends to a New England seaside hotel. The bride and groom are never seen or mentioned. Instead, the focus is on these guests whose own wedding days have not worked out to they lived happily ever perfection.

Kate (Karen Young,) and Chris (Frank Wood), whose hotel room serves as the locus for the angst and desperate acting out prompted by the festivities, have the most obviously troubled marriage. Angie (Mary Testa) is desperate for a fun break from being a mom and a member of what her husband Freddy (met only via Angie's references) calls the "DINS" -- dual income, no sex marrieds.

The ten-year marriage of Maureen (Laura Esterman) and Hal (Robert Dorfman) ended when Hal found both his work as a composer and his marriage irrelevant. He left Maureen for Ben, and musical composition for autobiographical fiction. The abandonment and the book which makes no mention of her (as if the marriage ever existed) still outrages Maureen so that the wedding induced reunion with Hal is as likely to sweeten the festivities as a wedding cake baked with sand.

To bring these tempests in the marital teapots to a farcical boil we see Kate contemplating a fling with Bert (Gareth Saxe), a handsome, working class hunk she met in the hotel bar. Friend Angie persuades her that sex with her would be a better alternative. Theirs is an encounter interuptus, as are all the other brief encounters the playwright has cooked up:

Chris, the not-too-absentminded for hanky panky math professor enters with Amelia (Mary Schultz), an old college schoolmate now widowed, and ends up being a captive audience to Ben's literary lectures masquerading as conversation. . .Maureen confronts Hal, her Diane Van Furstenburg wrap dress getting unwrapped, re-wrapped and unwrapped several times in the process. . .Bert, instead of making out with Kate, must make do with reading Chris's bedside thriller; not his first experience with rejection (his girl friend who moved in with him while he was still living at home, left him after two years, taking the furniture on which his parents were still making payments).

Set designer Walt Spangler has furnished the single set with all the accouterments for cross-juggling the action. The noisily turning handle on the door leading into the room to give whoever's front and center sufficient warning to duck under a cover or bed, inside a closet, or through the door leading to the bathroom. The positioning of the beds at the edge of the stage gives the viewer the feel of being part of the hubbub. The vital prop, and the play's running joke leading to a final and perfectly executed punchline, is Chris's suitcase, from which pants, and shirts, and pajamas are borrowed by the splash-prone Hal.

As Ms. Tolan neatly builds on the running joke about Chris's suitcase which becomes progressively emptier, she's also used the painful depilatory procedure of the title to deftly and with humor work in her more serious intentions. The reference to a wax treatment Kate has reserved, is made in the first scene -- a smoking gun, of sorts, that goes off with the arrival Lily (a devilishly funny Lola Pashlalinski), the Russian woman who accompanies her gasp-inducing removal of hair on Kate's legs with an astute monologue about "real" pain such as she knew under Stalin's reign. As Lily talks, Chris watches and listens and Kate endures the ripping away of the hot waxed strips of tape -- it becomes clear, if it hasn't already, athat everything we've witnessed has been a stripping away of the ridiculous and often self-induced pain of modern life and relationships.

A number of these well-seasoned actors could be accused of playing up to established personas -- for example, the cool distance, à la SideMan of Mr. Wood, brash outrageousness of Ms. Testa, and the high-voice and exaggerated gestures and looks of Mr. Greenspan. However, these three especially manage to make what could easily be termed shtick particular to their characters. In the same way, Ms. Tolan's well-constructed play proves that ordinary lives and situations can still result in extraordinarily enjoyable theater. The Wax, deserves a longer run that Playwrights Horizon has scheduled -- if not on Broadway in a medium-sized Off-Broadway house.

by Kathleen Tolan
Directed by Brian Kulick
Cast: Frank Wood, Laura Esterman, Mary Testa, Robert Dorfman, David Greenspan, Lola Pashalinski,Gareth Saxe, Mary Shultz, Karen Young
Set Design: Walt Spangler
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Costume Design: Elizabeth Hope Clancy
Sound Design:Jill B.C. DuBoff
Running time: 95 minutes without intermission
Playwrights Horizon, 416 W. 42nd St. (9th/10th Avs),279-4200
12/12/00-1/21/01; opening 1/07/01
Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sun at 7:30pm; Sat & Sun at 3pm-- $40

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 12/05 performance

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