The art of conversation

In the Parlance

By Richard Harland Smith
Directed by Keith Oncale
Lightning Strikes Theatre Company
Pulse Theatre, 432 W. 42nd St., (212) 713-5334
Equity showcase (closes May 27)
Review by David Mackler

In the Parlance may seem like an awkward title for a play, but after very few minutes it becomes clear that while there is a plot (the events surrounding the theft of a large sum of money), the real matter at hand is the characters on stage and how much they love to talk. The glory of playwright Richard Harland Smith's work and Keith Oncale's direction is that it is so fine to listen to everything they say. To turn an old dictum on its head, here language is character.

The first voice heard coming out of the dark was in Russian, and as the lights rose, one by one the whole cast entered in a babble of overlapping voices. This was the only time that the characters' voices couldn't be individually understood, and it served as notice that there would be a lot of characters to sort out. Set in and around a bar/restaurant in the Bronx, the play's scenes don't play out in chronological order, but are shuffled through a recent February. Eddie, a new bartender (J. Richey Nash), has caught the eye of Cathy (JulieHera DeStefano); Tommy G., the restaurant's manager (Roy Bacon), must explain to Chaz, a Mafia capo (Tom Cappadona), about the missing money; various police and FBI agents are investigating the mob; and then there's that television reporter (AnnMarie Benedict), who is more concerned with how she comes across than with her news reporting about a body discovered in Chinatown.

Conversational tangents become subject matter as facts are expounded upon, and the meaning and usage of words is minutely elucidated. So what if some of the facts are suspect (is St. Katerina really the patron saint of tongue disease?) and the explained etymology is dubious (could "talk" really be from the Persian for talcum?) The cast was so convincing and delightful that truth was unimportant -- it was a pleasure just to listen to these guys and gals, and accept that they believe what they're talking about. What a treat when a playwright has fun with his characters and the audience!

The set (designed by Lori Rohr) was simple: the restaurant's bar and a couple of tables, with other locations made plain by the acting and direction; the lighting (by Jill Nagle) superbly directed attention and accented moods; the sound (by Jeremy Schwartz) used music and effects to reinforce character.

Each actor was indispensable to the play's success, and it speaks volumes to their talent that all characters seemed autochthonous (look it up!) to the milieu. The production is fascinatingly intellectual and bravely dramatic (the missing money plot plays out in a completely unexpected way). Press material notes that Parlance is a meeting of Tom Stoppard and The Sopranos - well, yeah, but even if aspects of it are familiar, in no way does it feel like a retread. And it covers more ground in under two hours than plays twice its length.

The balance of the excellent cast: Larry Fleischman, Nicholas J. Coleman, Stephen Aloi, Robyn Parsons, D.L. Schroder, Rozie Bacchi, Thomas Bolster, Jeff Buckner, Jay Aubrey Jones, Michelle Maryk, Lou Kylis, Martin Everall, Mikhail Pogul.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2001 David Mackler