Saturday, June 25, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes **

Set design by Neil Patel
Israel Horovitz’s latest play was commissioned by the artistic director of the Cherry Lane Theatre, Angelina Fiordellisi, as a vehicle for two theatrical treasures, Estelle Parsons and Judith Ivey. It’s a wildly uneven comedy about four women who gather in the Parisian apartment of a Sorbonne professor, ex-husband to three of them and former lover to the fourth, who has just died at 100. Evelyn (Parsons), 88, was his second wife who married him after the first wife’s defenestration. Evvie (Ivey), 68, broke up that marriage, but never wed him. Both have been invited to attend the funeral with complimentary plane tickets by his widow. Janice (Fiordellisi), 58, the depressive third wife, read about his death and shows up uninvited; after her many suicide attempts, it was assumed that she was no longer “available.” His widow, the luscious Marie-Belle, 38, from Senegal (Francesca Choy-Kee), claims to still be in communication with him, which we see mainly through the uncontrollable laughter his paranormal tickling attacks provoke. The four women bitch and reminisce, with most of the bon mots going to troupers Parsons and Ivey. There’s a bit of the supernatural at the end. It’s intermittently entertaining in a lazy way. As light summer entertainment, that may be enough for most. The spectacular art-laden Parisian loft designed by Neil Patel will definitely evoke real estate envy. (It turns out that many of the artworks are by celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Joel Grey and Billy Dee Williams. A guide is thoughtfully inserted in the program.) The costumes by Joseph G. Aulisi suit the characters admirably. Barnet Kellman’s direction skillfully maximizes the play’s assets. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes including intermission.

Superficially, Israel Horowitz has a lot in common with Alan Ayckbourn. Both were born in 1939, both have written over 70 plays, both developed most of their work for a provincial theater they headed and both have had substantial success. Judging from the limited number of their plays I have seen, I would have to say that Ayckbourn is by far the superior craftsman. Horowitz divides his time between the US and Paris and is much beloved by the French. According to the program, he is the most produced American playwright in French theatrical history. Go figure. 

A request: I wish that all playwrights would declare a moratorium on cunnilingus jokes; they have become a tiresome cliche. 

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