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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Shanley has expanded the battle of the sexes into a global conflict with Brutus (David Deblinger) and Wanda (Florencia Lozano) symbolic stand-ins for the face-off between Israelis and the Palestinians. He's a successful but blocked writer, she's just starting out and is still riding high on a wave of idealism. The relationship starts out realistically enough in a public space somewhere in Manhattan and moves on to ever more surreal and often entertaining interactions.
The idyllic night at the opera everyone remembers from Shanley's Oscar-winning film Moonstruck is replaced by a nightmarish "date" in Brutus's loft in the Meat District, where " everything is is a candidate for dinner." No romantic cloak of insulation here. Deblinger's writer, who is as brutish as his name suggests, follows up on his first ego-shattering park bench encounter with Wanda with a lesson intended to help her identify with her characters. This calls for her to play the curly-haired damsel of the silent movie Perils of Pauline. She agrees, first donning a blond curly wig, then a dress and finally a hat that she likens to putting the cap on the toothpaste.
I won't tell you the twists and turns in the roller coaster ride Shanley takes us on, partly not to spoil the surprises, partly because the plot's absurdities defy summary. Suffice it to say that while what happens is often downright ridiculous (like a Jew representing the Palestinian point of view), Deblinger and Lozano and the two other LAByrinth Theater Company regulars who join them on stage help to keep the political stew bubbling. Chris McGarry adds to the clever zaniness as Pauline's cowboy rescuer, a combination of George W. Bush and Uncle Sam whose philosophy "I'm the best so that's what I sell" has made him feel isolated with the only friends he has "bought and paid for." Michael Puzzo doubles as a chess player and indebted friend and bartender -cum-indebted country.
Dirty Story, true to many politically motivated plays, ends up being mired in polemics -- in this case. an onstage UN debate. Shanley's dialogue is, as usual, sharper and faster than the perennial speeding bullet. Acting as his own director he has given his play the right pace and look -- the latter a flexible gray set that reflects the author's less than sunny world vision.
Though timely, Mr. Shanley's venture into geopolitical humor, is witty though hardly timeless. Those who saw David Deblinger as the hilarious gay actor in Our Lady of 121st Street (which just transferred for an open run to the Union Square Theater) may think him foolish to play Brutus instead of taking the opportunity to reprise Gail. But taking chances is what being a LAByrinth actor or playwright is all about.
LINKS TO OTHER JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY PLAYS AT CurtainUp
Where's My Money?
Italian American Reconciliation/
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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