Ask not for whom the bell tolls


By Jack Canfora
Directed by Joe Zarro
American Theatre of Actors
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

In a second-act curtain line from the Yiddish theatre (when plays had two intermissions), the ingenue cries out, "Mama, I'm pregnant!" No well-made play could do without a variation, though it is best delivered tongue in cheek. Jack Canfora's well-crafted Indelible doesn't disappoint, except in the latter respect.

The story concerns six thirtysomething people -- two brothers, two sisters, and two inamorata, together for dinner and a party on New Year's Eve on the false millennium of Y2K. Canfora devotes much skill in motivating his characters to leave the room at strategic moments, a tough chore at times.

Andrea (Christine Drayer), apparently the most stable of the six, is (she thinks) happily married to Greg (Greg Ellery). Lenny, Greg's brother (Jimmy O'Neill), proposes to Charlotte (Morgan Mayes) and thinks that her tears indicate acceptance, whereupon he announces their engagement to the party without her objecting. Unfortunately, Charlotte has the hots for Greg, who wants to reciprocate (when they're strategically left alone she blurts out, "Kiss me!"). Poor Laura, Andrea's slutty sister (Marina Morgan), is there with her date, the idiotic Richard (Robert Palmer), a filmmaker whose next goal is to convince the world that Ulysses S. Grant was gay. His pomposity provides valuable comic relief.

The situation offers many opportunities for irony of the dramatic variety (wherein the audience knows something the characters are oblivious of) if not in point of view, and Canfora takes all of them. Characters are constantly talking at cross-purposes -- or just plain lying. Much is made of a love letter discovered by Andrea, withheld long enough to elicit denials, and flourished at a crucial moment.

Not all was perfection. Morgan's Laura had the perfect too-tight op-art dress, messy hair, excessive makeup, and poor posture, but also exhibited bad diction. Charlotte and Greg played their love scene at full volume, even though there was a party in full swing just the other side of an open door (through which the audience could occasionally see movement in the wings). The set, while carefully dressed, was painted in flat salmon tones and roughly assembled. The stage was cold blue on one side and warm on the other, and not from an effort to create areas or moods.

The play offers many opportunities for fine acting, which the actors accepted with gusto. Rarely does a new Off-Off-Broadway play present such consistently rounded and well-defined characters, and it was a pleasure to watch these actors rise to the challenge. Andrea's willingness to martyr herself on the cross of her apparently failed marriage -- for the sake of the expected baby -- is almost worthy of Ibsen. But the ending -- with Greg returning, unfucked, and their getting on with life -- cries out for another turn of the dramatic screw, since Andrea has already predicted the outcome.

It is a pity, then, that this play was written well over a century after Ibsen, and while its dramaturgical clockwork generally moves smoothly, it does so because it moves in well-worn tracks. When the dramatic bell rings, it plays an old tune.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton