All dressed up with no place to go

Marie and Bruce

By Wallace Shawn
Directed by Chuck Blasius
IncoacT/Creative Space
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

Imagine Katherine Hepburn, thin smile, whispering softly in Spencer Tracy's ear: ``You scum, you turd, you piece of shit!''

The audience, first shocked, would wait, bemused, for the reaction. If Tracy looked up and said, in his blasé way, ``You were saying, my dear?'' there would definitely be laughter.

But imagine Hepburn screaming obscenities from beginning to end of a performance. Silent tedium would soon drown out the laughter.

Therein lay someone's miscalculation (which may have been the author's) in an otherwise fine performance by Patricia R. Floyd as ``Marie.'' Starting at top pitch, this lovely actress had no more mountains to climb.

Shawn's work is more a series of one-acts -- or perhaps divorce-case transcripts or analysands' monologues -- than a play. It features the sick and selfish noises of a bad marriage, a monstrous Bobbitt tale, voyeurism, bestiality, sweat and urine, and four-letter words amidst the pungent scent of garden flowers.

The director excelled at party scenes, for which he collected as interesting a pallet of personalities as of primary paints for sets and costumes (which were designed by Ken Nintzel).

Elegant touches, such as real sushi and demitasse cups, reflected the company's comely sense of style. Details such as neatly pressed fabrics, proper city and country sounds, and even a thoughtfully designed printed program, are rare Off-Off-Broadway treats.

John Alban Coughlan, a Tom Ewell look-alike, played ``Bruce,'' a self-described asshole who prefers to sleepwalk through life (except while drinking). The character nevertheless reveals an inner life of such sordid dimensions his wife should be glad he refused to lift the veil. Coughlan was exactly on the mark throughout: funny, personal, and vicious. Since he founded the company it was probably no accident that his performance matched so uncannily the inimitable intonations of the actor/author who wrote the play.

The other performers amusingly captured the nuances of colossal bores. Kate Blumberg did a hilarious send-up of cocktail conversation; Alison Brunell swallowed herself in absurd argument; Ron Butler showed almost menacing sincerity; and Richard Stegman effectively ruined everyone's dinner by graphically describing a case of bloody diarrhea.

The fact that the play's husband and wife were cast interracially is probably no longer important to mention. But casting George Ashiotis, the associate artistic director of Theatre By the Blind, in a sighted role is. His opening line (a single word: ``No!'') got the longest laugh.

Shawn's characters didn't exactly know what they felt in this play. Marie tried to get a rise out of Bruce and was defeated by bland condescension. Since she never changed her strident strategy, she never had a chance.

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger

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