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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 12, 2000. All rights reserved.

Review: `Murphy Bed’

E-mail: JoanCrespi@princetoninfo.com

Finger Painting in a Murphy Bed" is the intriguing

and provocative title of the play by David L. Paterson running at

Hopewell’s Off-Broadstreet Dessert Theater through Saturday, April

22. The image it evokes is messy, to say the least. That is, if the

fingers are using actual paints. Likewise if the fingers are exploring

another body sexually. But neither mess nor sex is the reason that

I give this play a thumbs down.

It is Ludlow Smuldanski, Myra Smuldanski’s mentally retarded (or at

least mentally unbalanced), younger brother, who finger paints while

sitting on the couch, who sleeps on the Murphy bed. At least sometimes.

When Myra has a date (which she does very occasionally), she gives

Ludlow (never call him Lud: he insists on his full name) her bed in

the bedroom. Tonight Myra has a date with Reggie and is glad of it.

"I haven’t had a date since Moses," she says. And Ludlow’s

the reason.

The setting is a small, meager apartment, a combination kitchen and

living room, notable for its three door chains and for the hideous

green walls hung with three large paintings by Pennington resident

Catherine De Chico. The kitchen also has a small sash window that

Myra tries to keep closed lest the unpredictable, unmanageable Ludlow

fall out.

Playwright David Paterson, at 33, is a young man of talent. "Finger

Painting in a Murphy Bed" opened in 1995 in Garden Grove, California,

premiered at the Acting Studio in New York in 1998, and was recently

optioned to Victory Entertainment Films. Paterson is the author of

15 plays. His first play was produced at the University of London

when the playwright was living there. Since then his work has been

produced across the country and has been seen in New York at venues

that include Lincoln Center. Two years ago he became the first playwright

ever to premiere three plays in New York within a single month.

Since returning to the United States, Paterson has had a recurring

role on the TV soap, "One Life to Live." He has also has written

five screenplays and over a dozen one-act plays. This fall his musical

"The Great Gilly Hopkins," which had a limited run at New

York’s New Victory Theater last spring, will open Off-Broadway.

Clearly Paterson’s star is rising. But "Finger Painting" neither

amuses nor, except for some genuinely funny bits and a few moments

in the second act, engages. It is larded with feeble verbal exchanges,

jokes that often fall flat, and too many quotes from Shakespeare.

It’s a small play, propelled by OBT veteran Gary Van Lieu’s convincing

portrayal of the persistent and attractive suitor, Reginald Baron,

who dates Myra because, he says, she’s fun, "a real gasser."

But we don’t see the evidence onstage.

What we see in OBT veteran Marla Endick’s portrayal of Myra Smuldanski

is the tough, strong, harrassed, even cheerless older sister, a temp

office worker who takes in washing because she needs the money. Myra

is committed to caring for her troublesome, Puck-like, Twinkie-eating

brother Ludlow, aptly played by Geoffrey Barber. Ludlow, 19 and asthmatic,

cannot live independently. He tenaciously claims Myra as his own,

and does what he has to, employing some amusing antics and deviousness,

to keep out the romantic interloper.

The play’s one emotionally engaging scene comes late in the second

act. Myra, having earlier dismissed Reggie, sees him again. Now she

is still rejecting him; she exclaims on the futility of her life —

"it’s pointless" — and protests that she has responsibilities.

(But she knows this; she has dated before. Having forgotten her "since

Moses" crack, she has confessed to Ludlow, "They come and

they go.")

Why does she reject her too-good-to-be-true suitor Reggie? Because,

she says, he’s too perfect. But Reggie, who is always accepting of

Ludlow, who tries to be his friend, has his own revelation, not to

be disclosed here. The play turns on Reggie’s small victory of getting

Myra to open her closed world enough to agree to see him again because

out there "it’s a scary world, Myra." And neither wants to

face it alone.

While I would just as soon fold "Finger Painting in a Murphy Bed"

back into its hole in the wall, many in the weekend audience seemed

to enjoy the show. "It’s good," "It’s very good,"

and "It’s fantastic" were all comments overheard on the way

to the exits.

— Joan Crespi

Finger Painting In A Murphy Bed, Off-Broadstreet Theater,

5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $20.50 and $22.

Fridays through Sundays, to Saturday, April 22.


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