Window dressing

The Legendary St. Vincent Design

Directed by Jules Ochoa
Wings Theatre Co.
154 Christopher St. (627-2961)
Equity showcase (closes Aug. 25)
Review by John Chatterton

The Legendary St. Vincent Design is a farce undone by faulty technique but laudable in many other ways.

It tells the tale of Mitchell Owens-Willkie (Tim Davis), an architect applying for a commission building an opulent house for a mysterious client. His boss is Edgar Edward St. Vincent, principal of a design firm. It develops that not everyone is who he pretends to be, immersing Mitchell in an implausible cloak-and-dagger plot.

Why does farce, by definition an implausible fiction, require the rigor of dramatic logic as much as any other form? Do the implausible elements then seem all the funnier? In this play, characters do and think whatever is necessary to move the action forward, regardless of consistency. For example, Mitchell's lover, Zachary (Richard Robichaux), refuses to sell his artwork to Edgar because he believes Edgar won't show it; then he hides it away because he doesn't want it cheapened by being seen. Zachary also throws all Mitchell's stuff out on the sidewalk in a lovers' tiff and then moves out of the house. This implausible universe comes to a predictable but implausible ending.

But despite the dramaturgical kvetches, the characters cast a warm glow of humanity, thanks in part to the performance of Jay Rogers as St. Vincent, who resembled a gay Andy Griffith with a wicked tongue. (Amusing one-liners, which in a revamped play would dazzle, embellish the script. Here they have no context in which to entertain.) These actors gave focus when not speaking, and the action moved along briskly. (Alas, projection was not high on the list of priorities, and the actors tended to swallow their lines.) These were performances in a gorgeous living room, scaled for a living room instead of a theatre. (Manuel Terron shone as a suave, mostly silent, butler but was less convincing in a thankless spoken part.)

For the star of the show was the living-room set (Lauren Helpern), handsomely bracketed by gold pillars at four corners, with faux-Louis XIV furniture and Ottoman rugs all over the place. What could be more appropriate to a play about an upscale designer whose motto is "Less isn't more. More is not enough"? The walls even had moldings on top. This was Off-Off-Broadway extravagance. The lighting design (Jason Lyons) offered even illumination for the living room and harsh localized light for scenes at Mitchell and Zachary's apartment, killing birds of location and mood with one technical stone. Some of the levels were so bright as to show up the staginess of the fake Louis Quatorze furniture, which was a pity. (The only disappointing technical component was the interval music, loud Bach with an annoying syncopated beat [sound design, Andy Cohen].)

The costumes, too (Frank Chavez), usually showed attention to detail, with frequent changes as required. This was a production with lots of heart and a high level of technical achievement (and producer commitment). The script didn't rise to the level of the other components.

Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting 1/Sound: 0

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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton