Petit Guignol


By Sally Clark
Directed by Bennett Windheim
42nd Street Workshop
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

You wouldn't think that someone getting shot in the head would get a laugh; but this writer knows how to exploit the humor in the most god-awful stuff.

The story of "Moo" is how a girl named Moo (short for "Moragh" -- which might have made a better title for this definitely non-bovine play) got burdened for 40 years with a self-justifying louse named Harry, who "in the grand scheme of things [was] insignificant."

Virginia Roncetti played the heroine. Her wonderfully disappointed face when her rotter boyfriend finally uttered "I love you" didn't need the verbal assistance from the playwright that it got. But how could a writer have known an actress could be that good?

Harry (Christopher Graham), who played Moo's life-long significant other, did just about everything to torment the women around him, from lying to maiming - even tossing a boring girlfriend down a stairwell. Yet almost all his execrable actions were funny, due to a magic spell the author wove around these tortured souls.

How could Moo put up with it? ("A wallower in self-deceit" was how she was described.) "Any Tom or Dick won't do," she explained. "It had to be Harry." Sadly Moo finally became "like an old dog left out in the rain; no one likes the smell."

Kit LeFever was delicious to watch as Moo's child-woman sister, who wore her primitive heart on her sleeve while making goo-goo eyes with Moo's guy. Roberta Reardon and Ellen Saland as Moo's other sisters were also fine. And Andrea Clark Libin's poignant monologue about the married man she loved, whom it was clear would never marry her, was an unexpected revelation.

There were enough roles for twice the actors. Bill Tatum's were perfect. Ditto Hector Hill, who segued credibly from child to dirty old man.

The director's adroitness in solving artistic limitations was admirable. Even frequent scene changes done by actors were always honestly motivated.

Many details (including a real straitjacket!), for what was essentially a backers' audition, were impressive and satisfying. Recordings of crickets and rifles, for example, and music by Scott O'Brien, probably sounded better in the acoustically intimate workshop than from a Broadway stage. And the lighting by Stephen Hills, though extremely economical, was never more nor less than needed.

The minimal showcase settings (some curtains that occasionally parted, and some chairs that got moved around) by Sylvia Lachter were cleverly contrived.

The strength of this entertaining play, whose genre was unclear (but call it a comedy), was in its characters. They were too delightfully idiosyncratic to be called universal. But they will surely be remembered.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting 1/Sound: 2

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Copyright 1999 Marshall Yaeger