Saturday, February 11, 2017

Evening at the Talk House


It sounded so promising: a New York premiere of a work by the provocative and often amusing Wallace Shawn with a cast that includes Matthew Broderick, Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker (remember them in L.A. Law?), John Epperson (Lypsinka), Larry Pine, Claudia Shear (Dirty Blonde) and Shawn himself. The cast also includes a fine young actress previously unknown to me, Annapurna Sriram. Upon entering the Romulus Linney Theater at Signature Center, the audience sees a cozy area that looks like the living room of a private club, filled with overstuffed chairs and ottomans, a leather sofa, a large coffee table and an upright piano. It took me a split second to realize that the attractive woman offering a tray of marshmallows, gummy bears and colored sparkling water was Eikenberry, looking barely a day older than she did on L.A. Law. For several minutes (too long in my opinion) the actors mix with the audience before the play. Most of those gathered at the theatrical club were associated with a play that opened ten years before  — Robert, the playwright (Broderick); Tom, the star (Pine); Bill,  the producer (Tucker); Ted, composer of the incidental music (Epperson); Annette, the wardrobe mistress (Shear); Nellie, the struggling club’s proprietor (Eikenberry) and Jane, her assistant (Sriram). An unexpected guest is Dick, an old actor (Shawn) who had been turned down for a part in the production ten years ago. Robert opens the play with a very long (at least 10-minute) monologue, during which we learn that much has changed in the past 10 years. Theater has practically disappeared. The country has become vaguely dystopian with quarterly predictable elections and frequent blackouts. Robert and Tom have abandoned serious theater for the lucrative world of television comedy. Bill has become a successful agent. Ted, Annette and Jane have had to scramble to make ends meet, filling in by participating in a government program to target people “who mean to do us harm.” Dick is staying at the club temporarily after a beating from his “friends.” Despite the underlying menace, the guests prattle on about tv shows and other gossip. One topic is the mysterious recent poisoning of at least two actors. The lights go out, but the talk continues. The play grinds to a halt with an ending that seems almost arbitrary. Somewhere lurking inside this disjointed mess lies an interesting play. I wish Shawn had waited until it emerged. Derek McLane did the wonderful set and Jeff Mahshie, the fine costumes. New Group artistic director Scott Elliott directed. Running time: one hour 40 minutes; no intermission.

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