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Side Man is the show that put playwright Warren Leight on the theatrical map, winning him a Tony award and, this summer, a Williamstown Theatre Festival world premiere for a new jazz-linked play, Glimmer Brothers. Happily Warren remains dedicated to his pre-Tony "children" and contributes actively to any new productions of these works by small organizations -- to wit, Night of 1,000 Heels (his first writing assignment) which played at LaMama last year and will return for an encore later this season, and now, the Mobius Group's remounting of a 1994 production (at the Harold Clurman) of The Loop. The playwright has done some rewriting to provide all who climb the steps to the tiny but comfortable Currican Theater an engaging evening bearing his hallmark laughter filled, fast-paced dialogue with a generous dash of poignancy.
The play is best summed up as a Leight take on the sexual round robin made famous by Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde. A dozen actors play out nine scenes all pointing to the consistency of miscommunication and disillusionment in sexual relationships between heterosexual as well as homosexual lovers. The first three scenes follow the Schnitzler pattern of one partner in each scene moving into the next scene. After that, the "loop" is completed by bringing in characters talked about in previous scenes.
Some of the vignettes are gems, some are a bit overcooked -- like the nerdy guy (Paul Marcarelli) and a prostitute who are robbed and tied up in a hotel room and for various reasons afraid to call for help. Even the overdone scenes are never without a clever touch (for example, the scene following the hotel robbery dilemma reveals it to have been a bit from a movie). All the actors give bravura performances. The two veterans in the cast, Tom Bloom and Austin Pendleton, are outstanding, but so are the less seasoned performers. Nile Lanning who plays the needy wife of Bloom in scene one, completes the loop with Austin Pendleton as a masochistically needy artist. Rick Gradone, who's also the production's costume designer, has a hilarious, on-the-button scene as a gay hairdresser.
Under Hilary Hinkle's smart direction and with Kevin Judge's simple but effective set design everyone is kept moving smoothly through the loop. Despite the talk about the resurgence of the stage play, the economics of the theater are hardly likely to support a play (even by a Tony-winning author) with a cast of this size in a larger space in either a larger Off-Broadway or an On-Broadway theater, where seven actors is considered a large cast. That's why anyone who likes a full-bodied cast of talented performers should not miss this production before it fades back into the great void of plays too expensive to mount on Broadway. At $12 admission, it's certainly priced right for every pocketbook.
The complaints about the high price of live theater, especially in New York, tend to drown out praises for some of the best entertainment bargains to be had. Take the limited run of J. B. Priestly 1932 "melodrama for the mentally alert" Dangerous Corner, running through September 12th at the tiny Paul Walker Theater at 721 Broadway (the NYU building south of the 8th St.). Actually, it's a re-run since this splendid production is a reprise of its earlier success as part of last Spring's NYU Directors Lab.
Everything about this Dangerous Corner is first-rate. The script is clever and suspenseful -- with a music box-cigarette holder serving as the trigger that turns a dinner party into a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf confrontation between a group of colleagues and friends. Director Torben Brooks keeps the revelations at a crisp pace and te seven actors, all with excellent professional credits, play their parts with panache. Vivienne Benesh's Freda Caplan, Adam Dannheisser's Charles Trevor Stanton and Rebecca Creskoff's Olwen Peel are marticularly outstanding. The production values are Broadway worthy -- with a finely detailed living room plus hallway and dining room (David K. Newell), elegant costumes (T. Michael Hall), evocative lighting (Christopher Brown) and authentic incidental music (by sound designer C. Dopher).
Producers who have complained about the dirth of stageworthy thrillers, ought to rush downtown for a look at this production which could move uptown "as is" and probably with better results than the recently opened Voices In the Dark.In the meantime, for a donation of $5, you've got 9 more chances to see the show at the Walker: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday at 8 p.m., plus two 3 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The theater has just 46 seats so call the reservation hotline (Mon-Fri 10-4pm) -- 998-1921.