Theater archives

The Sour Smell of Success


Richard Willett’s Random Harvest (New Directions Theater) revolves around the self-absorbed Aaron (Patrick Welsh), a playwright nominated for his first Drama Desk Award. Where any reasonable person would be uncorking the bubbly (as his boyfriend does), Aaron remains in a funk, obsessing over two tragic figures who’ve entered his life. The first, whose story he learns through his day job as a fact checker, is a prizewinning high school athlete who committed suicide. Aaron keeps calling the boy’s mother— not to comfort her, but to ask why her son chose to kill himself. Instead of rebuffing him, Mom (Ann Talman) inexplicably takes a shine to Aaron, breathing, “You’re more than just a fact checker. You must be a poet. A dreamer.” (How nice for him.)

Aaron’s other obsession is Susan Peters (Kate Downing), a little-known actress nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for Random Harvest, a 1942 Greer Garson weepie. Before her career could take off, she became paralyzed in a hunting accident, dying mysteriously at 31 of “starvation.” Moping around at home, Aaron is visited by the ghosts of Peters, her husband, and Garson as he investigates Peters’s rise and fall. It grows obvious, though, that he’s interested in the starlet and the boy suicide only insofar as they’re reflections of himself: Rather than embrace success, they seem to have run from it. Many ponderous scenes (and one breakup) later, Aaron overcomes his morbid neuroses—but unfortunately not before he plays us a recording of the gruesome “Tuppence a Bag,” from Mary Poppins, for the Act I curtain.

The bright spot in this two-hour morass is Patricia Randell as Garson. Popping up from under the kitchen counter, resplendent in tartan, she dispenses compliments (to herself) and advice (to Aaron) like some caffeinated hybrid of Bette Davis and Queen Elizabeth II. (If only she could replace Roma Downey on Touched by an Angel.) Beyond her appearances, however, Random Harvest reaps few rewards.