Corrections or additions?
This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the April 3, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Drama Review: `Humpty Dumpty’
Humpty Dumpty" is a nursery rhyme about a doomed
egg. With any luck, Eric Bogosian will not be quite so unlucky.
After 20 years of solo performances that bridged the gap between
and cutting-edge stand-up comedy with such works as "Talk
and "Drinking in America," Eric Bogosian says he has given
up the one-man rants and settled into the quiet life of a playwright
and novelist. But if his initial efforts are any indication of where
the rest of his career is heading, his fans may be hoping for a change
Last year, Bogosian’s first novel, "Mall," a scattershot look
at suburban teens and their perpetual favorite hangout, was published
to a critical thrashing. (Just released in trade paperback, Bogosian
will give a book signing at Borders Books, in Nassau Park, on
April 10, at 8 p.m.)
Now his commissioned "Humpty Dumpty" is having its world
at McCarter Theater, through April 14, looking more like a
than a finished piece. Bogosian, a charismatic performer, does not
appear, so the play’s paper-thin characters and cliche-laced dialogue
(one character actually says, "It’s deja vu all over again")
are all the more apparent. The good news is that its
running time leaves lots of opportunities for further editing.
The play is divided into two very distinct parts. The first act is
light and breezy, with dialogue that would not be out of place on
television’s ever-popular "Friends."
Celebrated short story writer Max (Bruce Norris) and his wife Nicole
(Kathryn Meisle), a successful editor for a major New York City
house, are staying at a lavish, $4,500 a week vacation lodge in the
mountains of upstate New York. They are joined by Max’s college buddy,
Troy (Patrick Fabian), a screenwriter, and his dippy girlfriend, Spoon
(Reiko Aylesworth). In between slavishly answering their cell phones,
the two couples exchange self-conscious banter about 1960’s naivete,
People magazine, and the "guilt inducing third-world
experienced at Caribbean resorts.
When Nat (Michael Laurence), a rustic mountain man and lodge
shows up to fix the stove, he is initially dismissed as a hick by
the men and an object for flirty amusement by the women. But when
the power mysteriously goes off, the phones rendered inoperable, and
contact with the outside world becomes impossible, Nat’s survivalist
skills are welcomed by the women and resented by the men.
The play’s second act is more like the old late-night "Twilight
Zone." For the most part, the comedy is shelved for a lot of
type angst. Days go by, the power remains out, and still no word about
the cause. Petty jealousies begin to divide the group. The group
of returning to the city, their offices, and their old lives, but
lack of gasoline, fear of lawlessness, and the relative safety of
the rural lodge keeps them rooted. Fearing that they will never be
able to return to their old lives, panic sets in and familiar upbeat
personalities melt away.
Although the bulk of the play was written before
11, it is filled with inescapable allusions to just that sort
disaster and our worst fears of its aftermath. Nicole notices that
there are no airplanes flying overhead. Spoon and Troy discuss
warfare. Starving dogs lie in wait outside the lodge, howling. Sounds
of random gunfire fill the air.
Director Jo Bonney (who is married to Bogosian) keeps things moving,
seamlessly welding the play’s first act comic tones with its second
act creepiness. Likewise, the cast is does a suitable job. Patrick
Fabian and Kathryn Meisle are particularly personable and supply most
of the play’s dramatic energy. Reiko Aylesworth is fine when she’s
cooing and giggling, but seems a bit stumped when the world starts
coming to an end.
But the bottom line is that the characters are so weakly written that
the actors are often left hanging. Bruce Norris’ character, Max,
the entire second act harping on the same "everything is going
to be all right" note. Michael Laurence as Nat looks like an actor
waiting for the play to come to him. He smiles, he shrugs, and he
walks with a big stride, but beyond that he looks lost.
Robert Brill’s set design is in many ways the star of the show.
by woodsy browns, its sheer rustic massiveness elicited gasps from
the audience. Elegant touches, like curling metal staircases and a
chandelier built from a mass of animal horns hanging from the ceiling,
provide the necessary extravagance to support characterizations not
built into the script.
Some people consider Eric Bogosian to be one of the major theatrical
voices of the last two decades. It may help to remember that
an artist does can’t be great. Heck, even Picasso did some crummy
paintings and Bob Dylan released some pretty poor albums a while back.
So maybe it’s best not to come down too hard on Bogosian. He’s liable
to surprise us next time.
— Jack Florek
Princeton, 609-258-2787. $39 & $43. Performances to April 14.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.