Corrections or additions?
This review by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
September 30, 1998. All rights reserved.
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.
by David Saint and launching the theater’s 25th season, this
drama is a comic dream.
Set in the elegant environs of a New York nightspot,
opens on its steadiest character Raziel, played impeccably by Earl
Baker Jr. This maitre d’ with a soft, inner smile and mysterious
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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,
the proceedings when they stop by the table to patch up their
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
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
Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $36. To Sunday, October
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