Stiff is subtitled "A touching tale of love and death," and described as taking place in "one act in one hour at the morgue." "Touching" is meant to be sarcastic (it can be assumed) but the one-hour part is accurate. Actually, the piece might have accomplished more if it were even shorter, because by the end, the essentially one-joke set-up felt somewhat stretched.
When Mary (susannah mackintosh) enters the morgue, she is confronted by a stiff on a slab under a white sheet. The stiff is sporting a rather prominent stiff of his own. The humor doesn't rise much above this level, but the ratio of funny lines to stiffs (hey, don't blame me) is about one-to-one. No extraordinary guffaws, but not much beneath contempt either. Lipsius overreaches in attempting to bring together Reagan's war in Grenada, Bob Dole's presidential defeat, Viagra, and George W. Bush under the guise of satire. The quality of performances was also evenly divided, and those parts of the play which were most effective were due in no small measure to mackintosh and Dominic Cuskern, who played Dr. Paul Travers, Mary's husband. Rolondo L. Morales was Peter (get it? At least the three of them didn't sing . . .) who is a sometime necrophiliac; and Lino Alvarez was Finkelstein, apparently so named because of a Frankenstein-like plot gimmick.
The plot, such as it is, involves mistaken identity, aphrodisiacs, murder plots, the forestland of Grenada, and pseudo-Shakespearean rants, which were well-delivered by Cuskern. He and mackintosh were able to perform on several levels - they played the silliness, went over the top when needed, and were fun and interesting to watch. Morales and Alvarez were the lesser half of the cast, not adding any more to the lines than the surface meaning. This became most problematic when the play turned expositional, attempting a more pointed satire than was possible. (It was also less funny.) Lipsius the director only sporadically came to his own assistance, and then it was in conjunction with the ingenious set, designed by Eve Schuffenecker.
The playing area was long and narrow, rather like a lane in a bowling alley, with the audience along the sides. The slab with the body was front and center, and further upstage was the equivalent of a morgue drawer, which slid in and out as needed. (Tight squeezes when moving around necessitated the occasional use of an audience member's lap.) There was a small raised stage at the opposite end where Cuskern had some of his best moments, aided by the very simple effect of being alternately lit from above and below.
Lipsius unfortunately turns self-referential near the finale -
Mary actually says "We can't end the play like this!"
It's a good thing there was some leftover good will from her earlier
comment on the reason for her ill-advised marriage - she was "penniless,
friendless, and in horrible need of a manicure." Sex, lies,
and necrophilia indeed.
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Copyright 1999 David Mackler