Sick of Fancy

His songs, on the other hand, are fresh to the ear, and the best ones are likely to stay that way. "Paris Through the Window," "Next Best Thing," and "Say Something Funny" will all probably become cabaret standards; they're clues to the show Kline and Price might have assembled—one that would emphasize Kleban's creativity rather than his inability to ride the elevator to the 25th floor of the CBS Building. A musical revue needs some structure, just as a closet full of clothes needs a crossbar to hang them on, but a songwriter's life is rarely that structure. Besides, the points where you know the book writers are fudging their facts make you wonder how much they've fudged elsewhere; it's hard to enjoy a good song with your suspicions aroused.

It certainly isn't hard to enjoy the prime cast Price has assembled: Jonathan Freeman, Julia Murney, and Ray Wills make particularly strong contributions. Carolee Carmello, as always, is simple, warm, and infinitely moving as the girl who sticks to Kleban despite his craziness. Even better is Randy Graff, as the first love who stays on to attain best-friend status. Graff gets the evening's finest song ("Next Best Thing"), but that's only natural; I imagine good material moves naturally toward her, like iron filings to a magnet. Price creates Kleban with zest and detailed creepiness; at the press preview, his voice sounded worn, presumably from the stress of wearing three hats at once. Scott Wise has contributed some neat post-Fosse choreography, and Carrie Robbins some brightly funny costumes. I just wish the show told me less about Kleban's ills, and delivered more of his goods.


Joan MacIntosh and the image of Jeroen Krabbé in Alice in Bed: pillow case
photo: Chris Van Der Burht
Joan MacIntosh and the image of Jeroen Krabbé in Alice in Bed: pillow case

Details

Alice in Bed
By Susan Sontag
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East 4th Street 212-460-5475

A Class Act
By Linda Kline and Lonny Price, music and lyrics by Ed Kleban
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street 212-399-3030

Cobb
By Lee Blessing
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street 212-239-6200

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Lee Blessing knows how to deliver the goods, and Cobb, which has the ring of an instructional pageant for young baseball fans, covers its subject very efficiently. Tyrus Raymond Cobb, an early hero of our National Pastime, haunts its Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in three versions, his old, young, and middle-aged selves endlessly bickering not only with each other but with the shade of Oscar Charleson, the "Black Ty Cobb," who, having never been allowed to play against Cobb, now sticks to him like a nagging question. Kicking issues and sometimes sentences among themselves, the four voices from the grave give due praise to Cobb's ballplaying achievements, but manage not to ignore his miserable home life, his racism, and his brutality: If you leave out baseball, it's the story of an abused child who became a psychopathic bigot, more likely to slug bystanders' heads than home runs.

Blessing doesn't evade this story, but the compassionate discretion with which he treats it makes the play resemble a fast shuffle: a bit of neglected sports giant for the fans, a dab of vicious redneck bigot for the cynics. Since everyone onstage is dead, there's no drama inside which the facets of Cobb can coalesce; it's all arguing in a void. Joe Brancato's production, smooth in its physical staging, gives the show away by opting for vocally violent Cobbs whenever possible; all four actors yell, Michael Cullen's oldster almost continually. Clark Jackson, as Charleson, and Michael Sabatino, as the middle Cobb, get most praise for yelling least.

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