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A CurtainUp Review
Temporary Help
Charles and I are entwined like a pair of weeds, choking each other to death
--- Faye to Vincent, who has stumbled into this marital thicket.
Margaret Colin & Robert Cuccioli
Margaret Colin & Robert Cuccioli
(Photo: Joan Marcus )
It takes no time at all to spot the double meaning of the title, Temporary Help. Nor does this first play from the Revelation Company beat about the bush in establishing its genre identity -- that once staple of the stage, the thriller, now seen mostly on the home and multiplex screens.

The voiceover about turning off cell phones and unwrapping candy comes from Sheriff Ron Stucker (William Prael)), the suspicious law enforcer hovering around the edges of this true crime tale of sex and murder. And before you can finish unwrapping your candy, there's a gun shot. Right after the lights go on we see the victim of that jump-to-attention, mood setting gun shot. The body is all wrapped up so that it could be an animal, shades of the goat in Edward Albee's play at the Golden. But no, it's a man. What's more that man isn't the first or the last to run up against the play's premise, that a job at Karl (Robert Cuccioli) and Faye Streber's (Margaret Colin) Nebraska farm is a mighty dangerous proposition.

Chad Allen
Chad Allen
(Photo: Joan Marcus )
David Wiltse has brought his experience as a successful mystery novelist to his playwriting. He has put his own spin on a 1990 expose of a Missouri couple found guilty of killing their hired hands to create a true crime story that attempts to show the perpetrators as victims of their childhood traumas. Since sexual abuse is currently every novelist and dramatist's favorite stepping stone to various adult dysfunctions (homoerotic sexual proclivities, a bent for violence, alcoholism), Wiltse has opted to give three out of four of his characters daddies who done them wrong.

The story is skillfully developed and suspenseful enough to insure that all will want to return for the second act. It does have some holes deep enough for burying another body. The dialogue is at times embarrassingly hokey ("His lips don't devour, they graze") and at other times diminishes the thriller image by evoking laughter (Karl telling his potential next victim "Friendship has never come easy. For some reason people don't warm to me"). The wittiest line (and the play's only surprise) comes at the end about which I'll only say that it belongs to Faye.

Overall, as the characters's lives are burdened with heavy psychological baggage, so Wiltse's play is sufficiently weighed down by bits and pieces from movies and books that have criss-crossed similar plot complications to prompt this overheard exit remark: "It was like an old movie on TV that keeps you up past your bed time, but for $35?" What saves Temporary Help from garnering more such reactions is the eminently watchable cast, ably directed by Leslie L. Smith.

Margaret Colin comes close to lifting Faye above being a dysfunctional Western derivative of Blanche DuBois. Rubert Cuccioli, best known as ponytailed lead of the musical Jekyll & Hyde proves himself up to the demands of a straight dramatic part, in this case as the all Hyde and no Jekyll Karl. Chad Allen, best known for Dr. Quinn and Medicine Woman, has already played the hapless but hunky drifter Vincent when the Westport Country Playhouse mounted a different production of this play. He convincingly laces ingenuousness with volatility. His repeated declarations about knowing how to protect himself and not being as dumb as some people think gives a consistency and focus to his character that's lacking in Faye and Karl. Of course, Vincent, is dumb and it's William Prael's none too swift appearing Sheriff Stucker (Stucker as in stuck on Faye) who's not so dumb. It's not just his twenty-five-year-long crush on Faye, but a nose for funny business that has him snooping around the Streber farmstead as the fourth man in this triangle.

Troy Nourie's unit set of the Streber living room and kitchen helps to establish the dreary atmosphere of economic as well as psychological problems. The play's time frame is the present but the brown and plaid upholstery and wallpaper (matched by Mattie Ullrich's forever plaid shirts for the men), kitchen equipment and tacky accessories indicate that the place hasn't been upgraded since Faye's father owned the place.

If you are willing to sympathize with the victimhood of Wiltse's characters, Temporary Help fits the Revelation Theater's mission which includes "spotlighting characters who have been subjected to the inequalities of our society." I for one feel it will take one of the company's future productions to reveal its aim to "challenge and inspire."

Temporary Help e
Written by David Wiltse
Directed by Leslie L. Smith
Cast: Chad Allen, Margaret Colin, Robert Cuccioli, William Prael
Set Design: Troy Hourie
Costume Design: Mattie Ullrich
Lighting Design: Chris Dallos
Sound Design: David A.Arnold
Revelation Theater Company at Theatre Four, 424 W. 55th St. (9/10Aves) 212-239-6200,
11/12/02-1/13/02; opening 11/17
Tue - Fri @8PM, Sat @3PM & 8PM, Sun @3PM & 7:30PM--$37.50. Running time: 2 hours and five minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on November 15th press preview

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