The People Choice

Besides, the evening offers too many other gifts to complain, like Jerry Mitchell's brash, funky choreography and John Arnone's sets (industrial debris meets Day-Glo). Even when McNally's script starts to unravel, as it does slightly in Act II, director Jack O'Brien's cast keeps bringing wonder to it: Freeman, Andre de Shields (Noah), and John Ellison Conley (Dave) are the standouts, but you're also offered Annie Golden, Lisa Datz, Marcus Neville, Emily Skinner, Jason Danieley, Romain Frugé, and, as Jerry, Patrick Wilson, whose onstage mood is visibly improved by playing a human being in a musical people might actually want to see.

In contrast, pity poor Daniel Levans, who's on his fourth try at turning Edward Gorey's gnomic, dryly droll works into a musical, and still hasn't gotten it right. Like its Off-Off predecessor Amphigorey, The Gorey Details aims to "sell" Gorey to the uninitiated, punching the jokes, camping the melodramatics, and using an arch physical style that semaphores cutesy weirdness. You know what you're in for the minute the actors start putting their hands on their heads in the opening number.

Romain Frugé, Patrick Wilson, and Jason Danieley in The Full Monty: You’ve got male.
photo: Craig Schwartz
Romain Frugé, Patrick Wilson, and Jason Danieley in The Full Monty: You’ve got male.


The Full Monty
By Terrence McNally
Music and lyrics by David Yazbek
Eugene O’Neill Theatre
Broadway and 49th Street

The Gorey Details
By Edward Gorey, music by Peter Matz
Century Center for the Performing Arts
111 East 15th Street

The Unexpected Man
By Yasmina Reza,translated by Christopher Hampton
Promenade Theatre
Broadway and 76th Street

A Place at the Table
By Simon Block
Manhattan Class Company
120 West 28th Street

This is unjust to Gorey, barely cold in his grave; the central joke of all his works is their deadpan ambiguity. If things like the rampage of murders in "The Blue Aspic" and the sacrifice of a little girl to giant mantises in "The Insect God" don't scare and bother you while making you laugh, the effect is incomplete. Levans catches the tone in the first of these pieces, and in a few others, but too often he pushes, distrusting both his audience and Gorey. And the pushing's gotten worse since Amphigorey, which was played with a generally lighter touch. Kevin McDermott, the evening's narrator, wasn't nearly as overbearing as he is here. The new score, by Peter Matz, has unpushy charm; Clare Stollak has a sumptuous singing voice, and Daniel C. Levine, alone of the cast, catches the Gorey quality. Less would be more.

Nothing, though, could be less than The Unexpected Man, an evasion of dramatic responsibility that would amount to consumer fraud if you didn't get to see two English stars, one of them, Eileen Atkins, a great artist who nearly manages to fascinate even here, with nobody to talk to and nothing of note to say. Alan Bates, opposite her, shows off his rhetorical gift rather than inhabiting the role. But what role? Bundles of cultural name-droppings who don't address each other till the end, the script's anonymous figures haven't even got a conceptual existence to play out. Actors with a sense of their obligation to the public—a category in which I used to count both Bates and Atkins—would have said, "Piffle!" and tossed this nonplay away.

Its equally nonexistent antithesis might be A Place at the Table, which makes an immense fuss over even less: In a TV production office, a paraplegic playwright and a socially conscious sitcom producer lock horns over who has more moral integrity. Compressed to 10 minutes, it might have made a great SCTV sketch. That anyone would voluntarily produce it leaves me less appalled than dumbfounded.

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