The History Channelers

Half a century can reveal awkward soft patches in the smugness: One of Teahouse's better small roles, for instance, is Captain Mac-Lean, an army shrink who'd rather be an agronomist. The top-price payers of 1953 must have found it hilarious when he launched into his rant against chemical fertilizer and DDT; the lack of laughter now is equally deafening. John Patrick, a skilled craftsman, juggled his little ironies deftly enough. Unfortunately for him, history had larger ones in store, like the way capitalism and technology have tempted most of Asia to throw out its traditions.

The irony of an Asian American theater staging the piece is that its Asianness, meager enough, is so remote from the troupe; when the men appear in Western suits at the end, you can't tell if they're meant to be the villagers grown prosperous or the visiting U.S. congressmen. It's a play about cultural difference in which none is visible onstage, and Ron Nakahara's perfunctory production doesn't offer much else. The principal alleviations of this low-temperature event are Robert Klingelhoefer's poetic backdrops and a few nice performances: Scott Klavan, though no comedian, is personable as the teahouse-building army captain; John Daggett gets the agronomist's laughs without overstating; and Ernest Abuba plays the narrator-hero, the interpreter Sakini, with a wry half-smile and a terse matter-of-factness that are an infinite improvement over the pixieish coyness the role's been burdened with since David Wayne created it.

Josh Hamilton and Kate Blumberg in Sexual Perversity in Chicago: things the Internet hasn't changed
photo: Carol Rosegg
Josh Hamilton and Kate Blumberg in Sexual Perversity in Chicago: things the Internet hasn't changed

Details

Sexual Perversity in Chicago & The Duck Variations
By David Mamet
Atlantic Theatre Company
336 West 20th Street
212-239-6200

Teahouse of the August Moon
By John Patrick
Based on the novel by Vern Sneider
Playhouse 91
316 East 91st Street
212-279-4200

Arrah-Na-Pogue
By Dion Boucicault
Storm Theatre Company
145 West 46th Street
212-279-4200

** Things were simpler and saner in the mid 19th century, when the theater had to offer you a decent portion of something, and the heartiest meals were served up by Dion Boucicault's mixes of melodrama and comedy. As the revival of his 1864 Gaelic diversion, Arrah-Na-Pogue, or The Wicklow Wedding, shows, Boucicault's distinctively Irish brilliance was to build his ironies out of his form's own conventions: In this play, the thickly blarneying peasant lovers, Arrah and Shaun, are the tragic figures, while the upper-crust hero and heroine, Beamish and Fanny, turn out to be the clowns. This wittily disjunctive vision comes directly from the author's Irish consciousness: The very opening, for instance, shows us a landlord robbing the rent collector of the proceeds from his own estate. The absurd-sounding act, which makes perfect sense in context, turns out to be the first link in a chain of impossible yet inevitable events that build to Shaun and Arrah being arrested at their own wedding, with him having to stand in for the unknown man he thinks has seduced her. Always calm and cunning at emotional peaks, Boucicault wrings both roaring comedy and heart-rending sentiment out of these excessive events. Irrelevant to all eras, he's gripping anytime. Even Storm Theatre's production, at its best no more than well-meaning, keeps the audience perkily attentive. There are 21 people onstage, but they mostly can't act, and their shoes make an awful clatter on the platformed set. Still, Kate Brennan's a feisty Arrah, Lawrence Drozd's Beamish has some grace, and Honor Finnegan sings "The Wearing of the Green" hauntingly. And Boucicault seems the youngest playwright in town.

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