In the Limeylight

Scott Elliott's production for the New Group takes the bravest but least practical way out of this impasse: Treating the piece as a work of wit, he slows it down, until the final bedlam, with chilling gravity. True, the witticisms are all audible, but the characters, with few exceptions, are reduced to monochrome, while the laughs vanish in the antiseptic air. For a final blow, Elliott has Peter Frechette's oleaginous Dr. Rance deliver his demonized interpretation of the goings-on, not to the person onstage with him, but into a tape recorder, at one stroke removing from the demented speech both Rance's delight in it and its dramatic effect. The moment's especially annoying because the other person onstage is the splendid Lisa Emery, who comes closer than any actress I've seen to making sense of Mrs. Prentice: self-righteous, embittered, bisexual nymphomaniacs traumatized by rape aren't easy to play. Especially with all those damn epigrams. The other strong performance, in a much less demanding role, is Max Baker's Sergeant Match.

Chaplin, Dee, and Nielsen in Comic Potential: Love at farce sight
photo: Joan Marcus
Chaplin, Dee, and Nielsen in Comic Potential: Love at farce sight


Comic Potential
By Alan Ayckbourn
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street 212-581-1212

By Harold Pinter
American Airlines (barf!) Theatre
Broadway and 42nd Street 212-719-9393

What the Butler Saw
By Joe Orton
Theatre at St. Clementís
423 West 46th Street 212-279-4200

Farewell to the Theatre & The Flattering Word
By Harley Granville Barker and George Kelly
Mint Theatre
311 West 43rd Street 212-315-0231

The driest of all English stage jests, Harley Granville Barker's 1916 one-act, Farewell to the Theatre, is only now, in New York, receiving its world premiere. By the time it was published, Barker had already removed himself from the London theater's frustrations. His comedy, a duologue between the actress-producer of a high-art theater and the lovestruck lawyer who handles her affairs, pays tribute to both the power of the stage and its ultimate falsity. Both characters, in their fifties, have fought hard, she to make her artistry carry some value and he to keep from being hypnotized by her glamour. Both are long past all illusion: She's lost faith in her ability to find emotional truth onstage, as well as in the public's ability to accept it; he's conquered his sentiment sufficiently to marry and have children. With his wife long dead and her theater on the verge of financial collapse, will they finally get together? Don't jump to conclusions about who's renouncing what. The two roles are a diva's dream and a character man's apotheosis; Sally Kemp and George Morfogen handle them solidly, with sincerity and grace, in the Mint Theatre's production, directed by Gus Kaikkonen. He does less well with the curtain-raiser, George Kelly's vaudeville sketch The Flattering Word, which, shorn of its repetitions and played twice as fast and four times as lightly, would put the evening in perfect balance.

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