A Dull's House

There isn't, however, any wholly fair way to evaluate actors obliged to play such a vitiated mass of pasted-together irrelevancies. Director John Tillinger has done a very efficient job of coordinating a set of traffic problems that could give any urban planner goose pimples, and no one in the cast seems very far off track. The problem is that these tracks lead only onto sidings and branch lines: At the start of House, I thought that Michael Countryman must have missed something in making Giles such a sap; by the end of Garden, I was grateful to him for adding a touch of grit to a role that, as written, is less like a human than a bowl of bread and milk. Daniel Gerroll (Gavin) gets to be creepy and pompous; Veanne Cox (Joanna) gets to be demented and hyper; Nicholas Woodeson (Teddy) gets to tune out vacantly and lean forward eagerly. No doubt these are all commendable skills, but I have seen these people act, and firmly believe they could do so again, if someone would write them a three-dimensional role to play. I felt sorriest for Patricia Connolly, whose lengthy and admirable career has given her the right to do more than stand about, as the Platts' cook, committing synthetic malapropisms; the more emotional truth she brings to the role, the more factitious she makes Ayckbourn's work look. But that's the trouble with a writer who knows too many old jokes; accumulating them has left his brain no storage space for the reality in which they once had point.


Carson Elrod and Michael Countryman in Garden: double or nothing?
photo: Joan Marcus
Carson Elrod and Michael Countryman in Garden: double or nothing?

Details

House and Garden
Two plays by Alan Ayckbourn
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street 212-581-1212

A Letter From Ethel Kennedy
By Christopher Gorman
MCC Theatre
120 West 28th Street 212-206-1515

Leaving MCC Theatre after A Letter From Ethel Kennedy, I felt angry, as I do after seeing a bad play. I didn't realize until I read through the program the next day that I had actually been attending a memorial service: Christopher Gorman, the author, died of AIDS last May; it was among his dying wishes that Joanna Gleason stage this play and Anita Gillette appear in it as the mother of the hero, whose name is Kit—short for Christopher. I feel bad about this because I like to know whether I am attending a memorial service or a play; I've seen far too many of each that look more like the other. Repetitive, self-indulgent, and distressingly smug, A Letter From Ethel Kennedy was not in any way ready for the public, and should only have been given as a private performance for the author's friends and associates. The smugness, of course, is removed in retrospect by one's knowledge of what lay underneath it. To say that this was the best the author could do would be unjust; it was the best he had time to do. Almost everyone onstage seems a little uncomfortable about it, and I can understand why. The exceptions are Gillette, another of those blessed artists incapable of striking a false note, and Jay Goede, who rides the ups and downs of the hero's moods with a touching air of pained patience.

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