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A CurtainUp Review

Deirdre O'Connell and Christopher Thornton
Deirdre O'Connell & Christopher Thornton
While the script of Pyretown does acknowledge that one of the playís two characters lives around burned-out buildings, and audiences could infer that both characters have burned out their lives, the title remains fairly cryptic during the performance. However, the play that unfolds quickly becomes a vivid engagement between two troubled yet vivacious characters that may be meant for one another.

Harry is a bright, capable young man who recently has been confined to a wheelchair because of a tragic accident. Louise is a single and nearly manic mother who amazingly describes herself as "over-happy." She recently escaped "a really mean drunk" of a husband and is apprehensive about her oncoming middle age; nevertheless she remains a vibrant and spirited individual even as she lives on lifeís margins. Chance encounters between the two in a supermarket and a hospital emergency room comfortably lead to a mutually caring relationship that perhaps is best described as a special, while limited, friendship.

Writer John Bellusoís script makes the pair extraordinarily appealing even as their personality limitations become disturbingly apparent. The dialogue is crisp, bright, and engaging. However, the characters, for all of their natural gifts, cannot move forward. Harry remains an intellectual dilettante, and Louise canít seem to overcome battered wife syndrome. The rise and fall of their relationship is believable, yet just misses a satisfying happy ending as they both return to the miserable limitations of the past.

What keeps Harry and Louise stuck in their respective ruts? We hear Harry declaim about survival of the fittest and social Darwinism, yet as someone who clearly knows how to "work the system," one is left surprised at his inability to use his natural skills to greater effect. Louise, a natural victim herself, could use Harryís skills to better enable her. In fact, she does positively respond to his encouragement that she enroll in a community college biology course. Yet she quickly gives up on him when he miscalculates and becomes enraged on an essential telephone conference she must have with an unavoidable medical bureaucrat.

The two actors are superb. Deirdre OíConnell is magnetic in her every move, imbuing her downtrodden character with a constantly compelling charisma. Christopher Thorntonís approach and character are more subtle, but his Harry is no less engaging. Playing a promising young man whose potentials were seriously circumscribed by his motherís early death to cancer and his own paralyzing accident, actor Thorntonís own equally young life has had a similar challenge: performing in a wheelchair is something he already has done for numerous roles, his own paraplegia having stalled his career only temporarily.

The concept of paralysis, both physical psychological, is central to Bellusoís script, for the characters, as interesting as they both are, seem to suffer from frozen nerves, so to speak. Their vivid energy and life-affirming natures sadly are overruled by their inability to overcome their individual central limitations. Happily, the performers, whether encumbered by limitations of accident, age, or script, happily transcend all difficulties. Their work alone makes Pyretown a decidedly worthwhile theatrical journey.

Carl Forsmanís efficient and uncluttered direction enhance as usual, but he strangely has permitted his lighting designer sometimes to light up the theaterís back wall and utility pipes to distracting effect. Otherwise, the various parts of the stage usefully are lit selectively to serve as tight mini-stages for the minimally suggested settings of home, market, hospital, and elsewhere. Bridge music between scenes also an asset, although the pre-show atmosphere goes overboard in volume.

Written by John Belluso
Directed by Carl Forsman
Cast: Deirdre OíConnell (Louise) and Christopher Thornton (Harry).
Set Design: Nathan Heverin
Costume Design: Theresa Squire
Lighting Design: Josh Bradford
Sound Design: Stefan Jacobs
Keen Company at Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street 212/868-4444
Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission).
From 1/25/05 to 2/20/05; opening 1/29/05
Tuesday to Saturday at 8; Sunday at 2.
Viewed by Brad Bradley at the Thursday, January 27 preview.

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