Still missing

Finding Louise

By Donovan Johnson
Directed by Eric Parness
Oberon Theatre Ensemble
Producers Club, 358 W. 44th St. (560-2241)
Equity showcase (closes April 1)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Donovan Johnson seems to have had two different ideas for a play, and instead of choosing between them and fleshing out just one, he used them both in the same play. The result is a long-winded jumble called Finding Louise.

Idea No. 1 is a comical Twilight Zone-tinged setup, where the actual plot is secondary to the notion of the performers as both players and commentators/creators of the performance. One of the actors-speaking as both his/her character and the actor playing the role-introduces every scene. The cast know they're pawns of the playwright, their narration and asides are out of character, and they may even rewind and restage the action. In other words, it's a comedy all the way.

But Idea No. 2 is the stuff of drama. It deals with the mysterious disappearance of Louise Brock. Her husband, Peter (Jarel Davidow), is reluctant to say she was abducted by aliens, but that's what it looked like. He had run from the shower after hearing her scream, only to see a bright light and aircraft wing hovering over the backyard. The police, however, suspect Louise was killed by Peter and his alleged mistress, Ruby (Barbara Jones). Meanwhile, Reverend Wharto (Michael Morrows) believes Louise was taken to heaven by the hand of God-a sign that the end is near. There's also a tabloid reporter (Emily Vail) in the midst, salivating at every detail and challenging all accounts for the sake of a good story.

Finding Louise would be a better play if Johnson made it either a self-referential farce or a serious exploration of issues such as faith and the paranormal. Instead, it bounces between the two, with the comic part amusing although not always successful and the serious part bland and ineffectual. What really kills the play is the second act, which opens with two talky, inconsequential scenes. For the final scene, it's back to all jokes, but this also goes on too long. There are about three points in the second act that seem like the end of the play, and these "false alarms" could leave the audience thinking, "You mean it's still not over?" Also tedious are the supposedly relevant anecdotes told by several characters that are invariably just a lot of sound, signifying nothing.

The play had an attractive set that replicated a modern suburban living room. As for the cast, Brad Fryman as the "good cop" was definitely the standout; Valerie Remillard (in a dual role) was the weak link. All the others were decent, although there's no explanation why Vail and Morrows had southern accents. With those characterizations, as with all of Finding Louise, less would have been more.

(Also featuring Harlin C. Kearsley. Sets, S. Kim Glassman; costumes, Nicole Evangelista; lighting/sound, Amy Henault)

Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri