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A CurtainUp Review
A Magic Place In a New Time

We don't usually review plays that have very short runs or that are being presented as showcase productions. However, since I only realized that the play fit both our no-no categories after I accepted a press invitation for Robert Lesser's A Magic PLace in a New Time, I decided to go ahead and see it.

The press release made much of the fact that one of the eight actors, Susan Gordon, was a former child star. Her New York debut as an adult is as a mentally ill sixty-three year old woman who is permanently frozen in childhood as a result of her husband's honeymoon rape. The combination of playwright Lesser's writing her a terrible role and her caricature like performance, adds up to a less than auspicious debut.

Set and lighting designer Jason Sturm has constructed a semi-realistic two-level set that looks a bit like an illustration from children's fairy tale, shades of the Brothers Grimm, but, in fact, a small apartment house in Chicago, circa 1950. It gives us a bird's eye view of the three apartments where the three troubled main characters make us privvy to their desperate lives.

Apartment one is occupied by Amy Baumeister (Kaitlin O'Neal), a thirty-year-old former schoolteacher and her Teutonic mother (Celia Howard who falls a mile short of an authentic German accent ). Amy has come to Chicago in order to make a last stab at "living a woman's life", after being shamed and rejected by her small town school's principal. Her mother hates the move and is dealing no better with going blind than she did with being deserted by the husband who walked out without a word to escape her nagging.

Across the hall is Antoinette De Kenson and her son Walter (Gordon and Dean Fiore). This duo isn't merely unhappy but certifiably crazy, the son less so but only by comparison to his mom.

Upstairs we have a middle-aged cop (Michael Karp) who sees in Amy a chance to end his loneliness which, like all these characters problems, is in the realm of the extreme. Of course, Amy will have none of him, and instead falls for the troubled Walter, setting herself up for another disappointment. That disappointemtn sends her over the edge, leaving only two truck drivers (Chuck Ardezzone and Jason Heil) who are crude but not crazy.

As the entryways of Mr. Sturm's sets wobble every time a door is open or closed, Mr. Lesser's script is also a pretty shaky affair. The best character is Walter's uncle (well played by John O'Creagh) and the scene when he and his nephew finally break through the long years of non-communication is the most genuine of the seemingly endless two hours. Mr. Lesser seems to have taken his inspiration from The Glass Menagerie, but, even Amy's shedding her clothes to bring yet another moment of full frontal nudity to the stage, can't bring magic to A Magic Place In a New Time.

A Magic Place in a New Time Written by Robert Lesser
Directed by Robert Armin
Cast: Kaitlin O'Neal, Michael Karp, Susan Gordon, Dean Fiore, John O'Creagh, Celia Howard, Chuck Ardezzone, Jason Hall
Set and Lighting Design: Jason Sturm
Costume Design: Yvonne De Moravia
Original Music: Steve Gluzband
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission
45th Street Theatre, 354 W. 45th St. (8th/9th Aves) 212-582-0241

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 1/31/02 press performance
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