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March 14, 2014



Hell certainly looks better than my apartment – at least in the way that Harry Feiner has designed NO EXIT for The Pearl Theatre Company. It’s a sleek swank room with three lovely chaises longues.

And yet, behind the three translucent walls one can spy scattered junk. There’s enough there to suggest that the Pearl’s previous production was AMERICAN BUFFALO and that it endured an explosion that no one has since cleaned up.

Cradeau, Inez and Estelle will create some explosions of their own in Sartre’s play, which proves that life is hell when you’re stuck with the wrong people. Inez drives the other two crazy by singing and humming. Perhaps they’d be happier if a show song were in her repertory. How about PLAIN AND FANCY’S “It’s a Helluva Way to Run a Love Affair”?

It’d fit, for the lesbian would love to consort with Estelle. Inez says, “I want to choose my own hell,” and Jolly Abraham aptly delivers the line to show that she has a lot to learn about how eternal damnation works. As Estelle, Sameerah Luqmaan Harris establishes well how the very vain woman needs attention and admiration, but only from a man. Alas, Estelle is only a tease who doesn’t want to give sex, which is what Cradeau craves; many a man has been through THAT hell.

Cradeau, by the way, went Down Below after being executed for his political beliefs. “I never collaborated!” he insists, but Bradford Cover has certainly collaborated well with his two excellent castmates and director Linda Ames Key.

The line that “You have to live your life with your eyes open” resonates in HAND TO GOD, Robert Askins’ extraordinarily imaginative comedy. However, anyone from the religious right who saunters into the Lortel will soon be looking for an exit.

Askins shows that ridding oneself of religious indoctrination is no easy task. He shows the anger and frustration buried deep within four suppressed people. The poor souls haven’t allowed themselves to discover who they really are; instead, they’ve been fighting against their nature all in the name of doing what they believe The Lord thinks is right.

Only Timothy (the excellent Michael Oberholtzer) is ready to feed his sexual appetite – and at beggars-at-the-feast proportions. The object of his lust is Margery, who’s teaching him, her son Jason and a lass named Jessica the rudiments of puppetry so that they can produce a show that will Praise the Lord.

Marc Kudisch is hilarious as “Pastor Greg,” one of those religious men who believes that he’s super-cool for allowing his honorific to be followed with his nickname. He lusts for Margery, too, but why is she more drawn to bad boy Timothy?

These aren’t the only frustrations that cause the good pastor to yell out “Son of a biscuit!” and “God” which he almost follows with “Dammit” but manages to say “bless America!” just in time. We have freedom of speech here in these United States, but these people don’t, because they believe The Lord doesn’t want them to have it.

Most afflicted of all is Jason, who’s only allowed his true feelings to come out via his hand puppet Tyrone. He becomes as possessed as Linda Blair was in a famous film of 40 years ago. And damn few would be able to possess the role as Steven Boyer does. He truly makes Tyrone come alive with a body, mind and soul of his own. How he manipulates Tyrone’s hands alone is worth the price of admission.

The piece de resistance shows how much resistance Jason and Jessica have to expressing their sexuality. Both don’t have the courage to have carnal knowledge, so they let their puppets to do it for them while they chat aimlessly in one of the most hilarious scenes you can ever hope to see. What Princeton and Kate Monster have been doing for the last decade-plus will now look like a scene between Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman in THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S.

Boyer’s performance, which must be seen to be believed, hasn’t lost a scintilla of a step since I saw the show at Ensemble Studio Theatre a couple of years ago. At the time, I was invited by producer Roy (THE DROWSY CHAPERONE) Miller, who wanted my advice if he should bring the play off-Broadway. Less than a year later, Miller died unexpectedly. He was a mere 52, and in a strange way, HAND TO GOD is his legacy in reminding us that even the longest-lived of us doesn’t have all that much quality time on this planet and that none of us should waste it. Auntie Mame was right when she said that life was a banquet and that starving to death are all too many, shall-we-say, sons of biscuits.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of exits are, of course, entrances. I certainly applaud director Lonny Price for bringing on his cast at SWEENEY TODD in formal clothes and having them stand in august poses in front of music stands for this New York Philharmonic concert. Moments later, they were throwing their books to the floor and tipping over the stands, all to convey that they didn’t need them. And they didn’t.

How smart of Price to reconceive the “Parlour Songs” scene. He had The Beadle join Mrs. Lovett in song while playing the subtext that he was interested in seducing her. Of course this brings up the issue of whether Mrs. Lovett would jump at the bait, given that she’s had no sex from Sweeney. Or has she? Many are those who think that the two have enjoyed a sexual relationship. I hope that they’re right, and that a little squiff and a little jig jig have been part of their lives.

Nice event at Sotheby’s the other night for Guild Hall, that center for the visual and performing arts in East Hampton. Blythe Danner was being honored, and Bob Balaban was on hand to present the prize to her. I first discovered both of them in an off-Broadway musical called UP EDEN, which opened in November, 1968 and didn’t make it to December. It had a terrific score (as well as George S. Irving and Patti Karr), but it was a musical comedy take on COSI FAN TUTTE, which has even better music.

Balaban didn’t mention the show, but instead told of his once subletting his flat to Danner and her then-beau Bruce Paltrow – only to find that the job he’d expected to have all summer hadn’t panned out. He didn’t want to evict the couple, so he asked an old college chum to take him in. “And,” said Balaban, “we all wound up getting married to the people we were staying with.” Alas, the Paltrows’ marriage ended when Bruce died in 2002 at a much-too-young 58, but Balaban and Lynn Grossman are just about to mark their 37th anniversary.

Afterward, I spotted Balaban and told him that I would have relished an UP EDEN reference. How nice to see that he liked the show as much as I. We started trading song titles – “Let Me Show You the World,” “The Mowgli” – but when I got to “Nothing Ever Happens ‘Till 3 A.M.,” he proved his devotion by reciting the e-n-t-i-r-e lyric to me. It was a delicious experience before I made my exit onto York Avenue.

Many theatergoers made their exits at intermission of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. Don’t blame Jonathan Cake; he certainly kept his part of the bargain by roaring through his confrontations with Joaquina Kalukango, who, alas, couldn’t match him for power.

So 90 minutes was more than enough for some playgoers, including the five people sitting next to me; not a one returned. I planned to stay right up to the point where Cleo clutched her asp, and was rewarded with a surprising reconception of the suicide that director-adaptor Tarell Alvin McCraney had imagined.

The Anspacher has a thrust stage, so with an audience on three sides, you can see the expressions on the faces of those seated in the other sections. After intermission, I saw many who’d decided to stick it out give doleful looks to their seatmates; others were often consulting their watches to see how close they were to the end of the 2:45 evening; and one man was even seen tapping his watch, convinced that it had to have stopped. (It probably hadn’t.)

Trouble is, with that Steven Strawbridge’s bright lights a-blazing and with stadium-type seating, those who leave during Act Two would bear the brunt of having the actors get a good long look at their leaving. Everyone hates to subject actors to that indignity.

Advice to those who attend, stay after intermission and then regret their decision: near the two-hour mark, Kalukango lies flat on the floor, seductively awaiting Cake to mount her. Indeed he does, but he pulls a large tarpaulin over both of them, so you can’t see them – but they can’t see you, either. That’s the time to make your exit.

         — Peter Filichia

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