Corrections or additions?
This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the April 14, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Wrong Turn at Lungfish’
Theatergoers, you won’t go wrong with "Wrong Turn at Lungfish."
Here’s a laugh-out-loud comedy until it segues in its last scene to a
wrenching, unexpected examination of the fundamental meaning of human
life and its ultimate end. (This critic and my theater-going friend
had the same reaction walking out of the theater after the play:
The play by Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz is critically acclaimed; it
was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play of the
1992-’93 season. As directed at Off-Broadstreet Theater by co-producer
Robert Thick, with some sleek and sexy costumes by Ann Raymond, it
stars the ever-excellent character actor Doug Kline as former dean
Peter Ravenswall and Joyce La Briola in a fine performance as the
sluttish Anita Merendino. The show continues at Off Broadstreet
Theater on weekends through Saturday, May 1.
The provocative title is a joke on evolution: "Creatures maintain what
they need to survive," explains Peter.
The show takes place in a single set, Peter’s hospital room, with his
hospital bed center stage. An adjoining bathroom is offstage.
Elderly Peter and Anita, a young woman volunteer reader (or so it
seems until her true motive is revealed), carry the show, with
occasional poppings in of Mel Evans as the hospital nurse. The
glorious music of Beethoven, presumably on Peter’s radio, continues
throughout the play. Anita’s rough, brutish, surly fiance, Dominic De
Caesar (Robin Carcione) appears near the end and his violent action
intrudes on the play’s otherwise calm mood.
Most of the play is full of wonderfully comic lines, some based on the
discrepancy in education between Peter and Anita. When Peter says, "I
was being facetious," Anita asks, "Is that like being horny?" Another
early clue to Anita’s uneducated state is her mistaking Casey
Stengel’s name for Stendhal, famous French author of "The Red and the
Peter, blind, is dying, though the audience is never told why. The
only clue is his statement "that which made me blind is about to make
me dead." Peter, a true intellectual, has, in his own words,
"dedicated my life to holding people to a high standard of
intellectual honesty." But that has not given him faith or solace, and
he has no visitors (read: no friends) Now, with death approaching, he
admits to Anita, "I’m afraid."
Though he appears self-confident and witty, he isn’t: He is "grappling
with the fundamental meaning of life" and hopes to find in his
hospital record "the whole meaning of my existence."
Anita, his opposite, lets him know, flippantly, airily that "truth and
beauty means as much to me as a bug I stepped on." While Anita is
vulgar, untutored, sluttish, and street-wise, don’t expect the play to
be an easy make-over.
Anita and Dominic are after Peter’s money. Although the bulk of it is
going to restore classical old books, Peter willingly writes a check
to her for $300, although after Anita’s stroking him on the bed in his
supposed sleep, he mistakenly signs the check "fellatio."
Toward the play’s end Peter collapses on the floor. Back in bed, he
lapses into early dementia, and we learn from his calling out that his
wife died of cancer and he had an affair with a student. This is a far
cry from his stated ideal: "There is a life that aspires/ It seeks."
Dominic, rough and tough, meanwhile appears through the bathroom
window and attacks Anita again, and Peter defends her with "Let her
alone, you stupid animal!" (Lest you believe that great music and
literature are reforming elements, Dominic, who knows the composers of
several famous operas, remains an animal. We learn that his mother
loved opera and had records of the famous operas, which he used to
listen to, but his father broke them over Dominic’s head.)
Anita tells Peter that Dominic has slept over in his underwear (hardly
shocking, even 14 years ago). On stage Anita clings to Dominic – "It’s
scary to be alone" – and at first, suitcase in hand, runs after him.
He (and she) come back in through the bathroom window. Finally, after
more of Dominic’s brutality, she does let him go. He dumps her
suitcase full of clothes and absconds with the radio (through the
bathroom window). She remains behind.
While it is she who has greatly changed, through Peter’s influence and
the great literature she reads to him, Peter changes, too. For Peter
has been no saint. He shuns any faith in the supernatural. Thinking of
his dead wife, he says simply "She’s in the ground, I’ll be in the
ground. That’s what I believe." Still, he has found a kind of peace,
has learned to need people. No longer the lofty intellectual idealist,
he says to Anita, "If at the end you’re there to hold my hand and put
your arms around me and tell me I’ve done well, that’s all I need."
The more evident change is in Anita. The play ends with Anita, having
rejected Dominic and his brutal life, sitting beside Peter’s bed
reading. What she is reading – and Peter is reciting from memory – are
the moving last lines of T.S. Eliot’s "The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock," one of English literature’s most sorrowful, wrenching, and
graceful poems about aging.
– Joan Crespi
Wrong Turn at Lungfish, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood
Avenue, Hopewell, Through May 1. $22.50 & $24. Fridays and Saturdays
at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
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