A Hamlet situation

Angel Wings

By Murray Schisgal
Directed by G.W. Reed
42nd St. WorkShop
Neighborhood Playhouse
340 East 54th Street (695-4173)
Equity showcase (closes November 21)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

Light comedy is devilishly hard to write, produce, direct, and act-especially when it involves 12 separate characters! But fear not: Murray Schisgal hasn't lost his magic touch. And the excellent 42nd Street Workshop has served him extremely well.

Schisgal always seems to go the extra mile with detailed strokes of invention. Thus, a bank robber doesn't just rob a bank; he robs the Bank Lyonnais. Or why someone didn't marry is explained by "I never met the right person. And I live in New Jersey."

The director added more inventive style to the author's quirky humor, rousing the actors to wonderful moments with situations like a crew of people trying to capture the last of a rare species of mosquito.

The plot and subplots are puerile but not necessarily predictable. Arthur Brearley (James DeMarse) is the kind of guy who wipes a woman's kiss off his cheek. But he's a successful, Clintonesque character (actors smoking cigars, these days, convey new meaning!), celebrating his 57th birthday, and boasting of his virility with both wife and mistress. Unexpectedly, he's transformed into a cowering hunchback, desparate to find a woman to love him.

Stewart Steinberg as Arthur's gun-toting manservant was especially brilliant in stance and posture, identifying "A Hamlet situation we got here!" when Arthur mysteriously expires, to be replaced by his brother (Bill Tatum), who goes from super-nervous sycophant to the self-assured new husband of Arthur's widow (played by the ever-cheery Elizabeth Ann Townsend).

Rhonda Christou played Arthur's (currently drug-free) beloved daughter, whose love-life oscillates from rap artist (whom David Cruz played to perfection) to hotel doorman (Mike Jankowitz in St. Regis drag). Brendan O'Malley played Arthur's out-to-save-the-world son, and the wonderful Helen Hanft was a vindictive goddess gone completely over the top.

Other supporting actors included Jennifer Hodges as a desparate spinster harboring a closet full of diapers and talcum powder; Willie Ann Gissendanner as a gospel-singing maid; and Andrea Gabriel as Arthur's underage, French mistress-whose mother "drowned herself in the Seine, fatally."

Scott O'Brien took care of the superior sound reproduction and composed some quite nice incidental music for the play. Rosana Rosa created an effective set, which Kirstina Kloss lighted well. Finally, Robert Guy designed the costumes, which were sometimes elaborate and lush (one featured a feathered headdress!) or amusing (as when mourning became most members of the cast).

The author clearly intended this silly play to touch the audience. Such a conclusion is possible; but more work is needed-especially around the middle of the piece, partly in the acting, but also in the writing-to paint more subtle strokes that will elicit more sympathy.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 1998 Marshall Yaeger