An offer you can refuse


By Daniel Roberts
Directed by Hilary Adams
AUDAX Theatre Group
The Irish Arts Center
553 West 51st St. (212/868-4444;
Equity showcase (closes May 1)
Review by Elias Stimac

As enigmatic as its titular namesake, Brando, by Daniel Roberts, offers many lofty ideas and messages, which would be fine if only audiences could muster the patience to figure them out. There are scenes of marital discord, unrequited love, philosophical reflection, and celebrity adoration. But despite its noble intentions, the play's themes simply do not add up to a worthwhile theatrical experience.

The plot focuses on newlyweds Butler (Jason Marr) and Laurel (Kate Roe), recently returned from their honemoon. They are visited by several friends, who have to listen to Butler's tiresome travelog of their adventures in Africa.

When a snobbish acquaintance (Scott Duffy) presents the couple with a phone that allows famed actor Marlon Brando to reach out and touch them, it becomes the obsession of anyone who answers the call. Butler's father (Pete Barker, occasionally understudied by Bill Weeden) is a persistent offstage presence, giving his son more mixed messages than good counsel. Between Brando's visceral banter and Daddy's verbal dawdling, Butler and company soon find themselves juggling all sorts of miscommunication.

Playwright Roberts provides some hints as to what this dark comedy could have been -- one hilarious running gag refers to a "mortality club" in which members face a small chance that they may be suddenly killed at any time. But other quirky bits -- such as the frequent descriptions of the art of rice grain calligraphy -- just do not have the same payoff. Director Hilary Adams kept the tone temperate and the pacing consistent throughout, so that the characters (and the viewers) barely had a chance to realize how little they were comprehending.

As ensembles go, this one was particularly strong. Marr played his lofty character with vim and vigor, while Roe squirmed as his uncomfortable bride. Nina Wheeler-Chaifin and John Jenis got plenty of comic mileage out of their supporting characters, and Duffy was a dark delight as the mysterious David Block. Barker kept the memories coming as the talkative patriarch, and Dante Giammarco provided plenty of bigger-than-life bluster to the role of Brando. It was a shame the cast couldn't have been given a script that made more sense.

The scenic design by Michael Carnahan was quite impressive, a regal display rack of African artifacts. Graham Kindred also scored with his subdued lighting, and Jen Caprio kept the technical achievements consistent with her contemporary costumes. The uncredited sound design was clear as a bell, but relied too heavily on primitive drumbeats, which quickly grew tiresome.

  Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2004 Elias Stimac