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This review by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

September 30, 1998. All rights reserved.

Review: `After-Play’

If the human condition strikes you as particularly toxic

these days, you can find relief in comedienne Anne Meara’s certain

antidote — laughter. At George Street Playhouse, the inimitable

Meara and a delectable dramatic ensemble are serving up a generous

dose in "After-Play," Meara’s own comedy of the uncanny.

Directed

by David Saint and launching the theater’s 25th season, this

bittersweet

drama is a comic dream.

Set in the elegant environs of a New York nightspot,

"After-Play"

opens on its steadiest character Raziel, played impeccably by Earl

Baker Jr. This maitre d’ with a soft, inner smile and mysterious

powers

is preparing for the arrival of the Guteman’s party of four.

The dreaded sound of a car crash sends two aging couples tumbling

through the restaurant’s polished entry. Believing they have survived

their after-theater ride with "the cab driver from Hell,"

these showbiz couples — lifelong friends who haven’t seen each

other in several years — quickly make their presence known with

imperious demands.

Anne Meara and Larry Storch play Renee and Phil Shredman, the West

Coast showbiz couple whose cynicism seems to ooze out of every pore.

Helen Gallagher and Merwin Goldsmith are Terry and Marty Guteman,

their more sedate, and equally celebrated East Coast counterparts.

Soon the quartet is brandishing Playbills and arguing over the quality

and meaning of the play they’ve just seen. Was it marvelous metaphor,

as the sentimental Guteman’s believe, or are the Shredmans right to

condemn the work as manipulative shtick? "I’ve been in this

business

half my life — I know shtick when I see it," insists Meara,

jumping to her feet and beginning an outrageously comic full-body

search on herself, in pursuit of a missing earring. One-liners rain

happily on the audience, for "Comic shtick" is surely this

woman’s middle name.

Set "somewhere between life and somewhere else," we’re in

a netherworld — a way station whose occupants have not yet come

to terms with their change of life. This sense of transition and

unease

is brilliantly spun out from Raziel’s opening moments to his final

warm farewells. Everyone will have their own ideas of his identity:

to me he’s a dead ringer for Charon, the ferryman of the River Styx.

Scenic designer James Youmans’ limbo is an impeccably chic restaurant,

its midnight blue walls set off by a putty-colored bar, recessed light

sconces, and a faux-marble floor.

Over the course of this uproarious, 90-minute "After-Play"

evening,, memories — lubricated by ample amounts of alcohol —

bubble to the surface. Old conflicts are aired and new ones

precipitated

between this foursome who have largely spent their lives together.

Jew and Catholic, romantic and cynic, animal lover and couldn’t care

less — these veteran performers are consumate entertainers.

Parenting seems to have been less than successful for the foursome.

While the self-punishing Terry bemoans the fact "she was never

there for her girls," Renee crows, "I was a good mother. I

gave those kids everything — a cook and a housekeeper."

"Stop

flaunting your guilt," she says. "Catherine the Great probably

got the same crap from her kids."

As conversation turns to friends and peers who are "dropping like

flies," Phil, the lifelong stand-up comic, rolls out a salty

undertaker

joke. But conflicts persist. "This whole evening is turning in

to an extended root canal," observes the irrepressible Renee.

Laura Kennedy and Kent Broadhurst, as Emily and Matthew Paine,

punctuate

the proceedings when they stop by the table to patch up their

friendship

with Terry and Marty whom they haven’t seen since the death of their

adult son. As we learn the younger Paine’s actual cause of death,

the pain and venom expressed by his surviving (until recently) parents

is almost unbearable.

After they leave, debate on the possibility of an afterlife is short

and sweet. "I expect nothing," announces Renee, unwilling

to be swayed by Gutemans’ therapeutic mumbo-jumbo.

As the party breaks up, we hear snatches of closing lines from

Shakespeare’s

grand protagonists. "See you next time," says Raziel, as the

crew totters out into the brilliantly lit tunnel that is the eatery’s

only means of exit.

Yet Phil is reluctant to leave. It’s not over, he insists, until the

fat lady sings. Which she does. Whereupon this otherworldly yet warmly

human play closes as it opened — with laughter.

So did you hear the one about the Arab and the Israeli?

— Nicole Plett

After-Play , George Street Playhouse, 9

Livingston

Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $36. To Sunday, October

18.


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