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A CurtainUp Review
The Gingerbread House
By Elyse Sommer
The problem is that Schultz's story about Brian (Jason Butler Harner) and Stacey (Sarah Paulson), a grown-up Hansel and Gretel, and Marco (Bobby Carnavale), the big bad wolf who helps them to give in to their very worst instincts is too realistically written to be a convincing darkly absurd satire about a society built on a foundation of false values. Even the top tier actors who do first-class work can't make these characters less than repulsive; nor can they save the playwright's satiric conceit from smacking of the same pretentiousness as the producing company's upper and lower case name format and claim of luring "play-haters" away from You Tube and My Space.
To be fair, the play is smartly directed by Evan Cabnet, with no sign of any problems due to his replacing the company's artistic director Alex Kilgore shortly before the official opening. Ben Stanton's lighting supports the sparsely furnished, sky blue tinged white set's scenery shifts. The intermittent projections by Richard "Dickie" DiBella (with voice-overs from Charlie Kilgore) lend a nice eerie touch to the story's real Hansel and Gretel, the children who symbolize this self-indulgent generation's sense of being entitled to the best of everything — even if that means returning children who don't bring the anticipated happiness like a damaged order from Amazon.com.
The first scene sets up the absurd bargain with the devil with attention-grabbing pizazz. Paulson and Harner are wonderful at subtly conveying the shift from ordinary behavior to extraordinary immorality. It's especially revealing to see Paulson's gradual yet inevitable change from being shocked and amazed by Brian's "Let's sell the children " to obviously envisioning a return to a sexier, childless existence. Harner is even more impressive in depicting Brian as boyishly intense and increasingly bi-polar persona. Unfortunately, as the aftermath of Brian and Stacey's Faustian bargain spirals from one predictably absurd situation to another, the fantasy and reality elements become as incompatible as Brian and Stacey.
Bobby Cannavale, adds another darkly charismatic persona to his stage resume (Mauritius, Hurly Burly) as the outrageous wish fulfiller. While Brian's work is as an unspecified job as a higher rank aspiring clone in any corporation, Stacey's job is depicted more specifically: she's a travel agent who's as ruthless about selling fantasy trips that are as unlikely to provide the happiness promised by Marco's child-selling deal. While at least one of the travel office scenes is extraneous, two of them include the poker-faced Jackie Hoffman as a lonely woman conned into not one but two obviously over-hyped holidays. Newcomer Ben Rappaport is also quite good as a co-worker who's impressed by Stacey's sales technique and good looks, and more shocked to learn that she is a mother than at her unmotherly abandonment of her children.
Since the child selling premise is revealed in the first scene, so it's no spoiler to reveal Schultz's less than subtle theme: Happiness is not a given right. Selling your children is a bad deal.