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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 12, 2000. All rights reserved.
Review: `Murphy Bed’
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 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
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
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
5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $20.50 and $22.
Fridays through Sundays, to Saturday, April 22.
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