Bewitching half-hour


Written and directed by David Epstein
Invisible City Theatre Company
Manhattan Theatre Source
Equity showcase
Review by Doug DeVita

It wasn’t fair that Elizabeth Horn, in a small role as a gold-digger and not appearing until the middle of the third act of Midnight, should stop the show cold with every hilarious movement and purring vocal mew. Not that David Epstein’s precariously witty farce hadn’t been stopped earlier by other wonderful performers and wonderful moments, but from the moment Horn entered, in a much too tight dress, feather boa, chewing gum, and slinging words with lethal comic timing, the moderately entertaining show suddenly took off like a rocket, and stayed at warp ten for as long as she was on the stage.

Written and directed by Epstein, Midnight is set in the mid 1950s, and is styled very much like a Broadway comedy of that era: it has a traditional three-act structure (although played with one intermission, after the brief second act) that sets up the conflicts early and resolves them on cue; it is set in the glamorous world of a New York City penthouse hotel suite and peopled with Hollywood types, Bronx wannabes, and Russian mobsters, all slamming doors and crashing into furniture with the precise timing of a Billy Wilder film; it even takes a stab at having a social conscience. And in its own self-conscious way, it is very, very funny.

But the old bromide about writers directing their own work held true here: the production never snapped, crackled or popped with the bubbly fizz it required -- everything moved the way it should, but the energy simmered below the surface, never fully boiling over until Horn made her spectacular entrance and hoisted the show to comic levels that were sublime. Performances that up to then had been good got better, performances that had up to then been terrific became inspired, and the last half-hour of the show showed what the first hour-and-half could have been.

Aside from Horn, other scene stealers were Gerry Lehane as a snooty British butler who is really an actor from Yonkers; Jono Jarrett as an Orthodox Jewish mobster; Jeffrey Thomas, nearly brilliant as his dim assistant; Paul L. Coffey as an obnoxious, boy-wonder film director; and J.T. Patton as a kid from the Bronx who just happens to be a splendid, if idiosyncratic, writer.

Dara Wishingrad’s lush pink, green and gold set, full of overstuffed hotel furniture and elegant period trappings, Adrienne Blount’s chic costumes and Joe W. Novak’s discreet pink-and-blue-gelled lighting all conspired to make the show look more expensive than it probably was and captured the era perfectly. But the split-second timing necessitated by the script was compromised by such a big production crammed into such a little theatre: had Midnight been produced in a space with a larger performing area, with the room it needed to breathe, perhaps the whole show could have been as intoxicating as its last moments, when even during the final fade, the broad smile on Horn’s face held the stage with bewitching, gum-chewing authority.

(Also featuring Dan Patrick Brady, Dennis Tiede, and Christina Wollerman.)

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita