Scott C. Sickles's Intellectuals starts out promisingly enough: a college professor's wife announces she is leaving him to explore her untapped femininity, in the form of a newly discovered interest in lesbianism. She isn't sure she is a lesbian, but she'd like to find out. This kind of daffy logic is hilarious, and for most of the first act, the comedy perks along on successive bouts of the frequently funny observations and coincidental situations that made for sophisticated entertainment forty years ago. And at times, the writing is quite sharp and surprisingly up to date; more often than not the one-liners zing with a convulsive sting. But the Act One curtain line quite literally tanks the evening, and the second act quickly dissipated whatever steam had built up in the fast and furious first act. Eventually, everything unraveled - even the performers seemed to just mark time - until the spurious happy ending brought things to a merciful end.
Michael Montel's direction, like the play itself, ran out of steam midway through, the frantic farce-like pace required by the text severely compromised by the less-than-smooth transitions from scene to scene. The set, a series of furniture pieces against a black backdrop, also began with a clever idea: everything was painted white, including the props, but even here the idea was mysteriously abandoned along the way. The costumes, at least, were appropriate to the characters and consistent throughout; the lighting was atrocious.
But the cast, with a few exceptions, was an engaging group, with top honors going to Bill Tatum as Philip, the forlorn and befuddled college professor, Greg Stuhr as his acerbic gay colleague (is there any other kind?), and Patricia O'Connell as an elderly student who complicates matters by falling in love with Philip. No less successful were Veronique Jean Marie and Jeff Taylor, charming as the various love interests of the main characters. Only Patricia Lo Piccolo and Riley Jones-Cohen failed to impress, giving flat, uninvolved performances in roles that cried out for individual sparks of creativity and panache to let them come to life. This was especially true of Jones-Cohen, who appeared as uncomfortable with the script as with her character's questionable lesbian tendencies.
It is a very frustrating experience to watch something fall apart right before your very eyes. Intellectuals has some promising moments, but it seemed as if Sickles lost interest in his own project, falling back on tried-and-true theatrical conventions to carry the day. And as Sickles went, so did everybody else, falling one by one like dominoes until there was nothing left but a pile of flat, useless objects waiting to be picked up and set in motion once again.
(Sets and costumes uncredited; lighting by Drew Levy)
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita