In and out of love

Romantic Entanglements - three short comedies about love

American Playwrights Theatre
John Houseman Studio Theatre Too
450 W. 42nd St. (560-2477)
Equity showcase (closes May 14) Review by David Mackler

Three views of love, two-and-a-half happy endings. Not a bad average as these things go, but only one of the three offered real thrills.

In The Sasmann Aesthetic, the first play of Romantic Entanglements, Sasmann (Kerry Prep) earnestly professes that he is not crazy, but his argument is made to a court-appointed psychiatrist (Deanna Deignan). The reason he was arrested still amazes him, and indeed, he does manage to wax rather poetic in his own defense - it was strictly his admiration for women's rear ends that caused the offending action. He even gets the doctor to admit a similar predisposition. And as they leave the doctor's office, she - well, physician, heal thyself. Straightforward direction (Marvin Starkman) and enthusiastic performances couldn't hide the fact that if Sasmann's eager defense of his actions is meant to be playful and sympathetic, this playlet (by Jules Tasca) is morally and aesthetically suspect, and the sweetness couldn't hide the acrid undertaste.

Things picked up considerably - morally, aesthetically, and comically - with Larry Cadman's World Enough and Time, directed by Blake Lawrence. The play's title is from "To His Coy Mistress," by Andrew Marvell (in which, you will recall, the narrator is trying to entice his reluctant prey sooner rather than later). Lyle (Clay Adams) uses the poem to intellectually seduce Stephanie (Shay Gines), the bombshell he met through the personals (each responded to the other's ad). The point escapes her though, since her tastes are far more current and prosaic, and while she's confused that Lyle cannot produce the etchings he promised to show her, she's not averse to some action. He, however, is bookish and analytical, and wants to be respected for, yes, his mind. These opposites attract (he thinks she's wonderfully earthy; she thinks he has a cute butt), but each must adjust expectations in the face of reality. It's not for an instant realistic, but this is good and intelligent comic writing, and it was very well-played by Adams and Gines. It was to everyone's credit that when the two finally start getting cozy, and Stephanie murmurs that "we have all the time in the world," the viewer's mind and heart were engaged. Good job.

Frances Galton's Damaged Goods is a more commonplace story, with a rich infirm widower, his pretty housekeeper, and his avaricious son. The play is mostly composed of rather by-the-book exposition, and could easily be a third shorter than it is. What pleasure there was came from some spot-on performances, even though they were of different acting styles. Mel Jurdem was an old pro, and he was a pleasure to watch and listen to as he gave depth to a rather average part. Jane Lowe was straightforward and warm as the housekeeper, genuinely fond of the old coot, and the play definitely sagged when it shifted away from these two. Kendall Zwillman also scored as Lowe's friend, and they shared a good scene where, over a glass of wine, they discussed their lives. The play's ending is sweet and predictable. And in case you were looking for a continuance of the prior plays' common theme, director Andrea Andresakis allowed Jurdem to gaze admiringly at Lowe's posterior. (Also in the cast were David Katz and Scott Glascock.)

The sets and lighting design (Mark Hankla) were solid, and in the case of the Damaged Goods set, even more so. Costumes (Carolina Capehart) ditto - you could never trust a man (like Sasmann) who proclaims a special aesthetic while wearing such a garish shirt.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2000 David Mackler