Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Klonsky and Schwartz
It is 1966. Little-known, little-published poet Milton Klonsky has been contacted by the National Endowment for the Arts. It seems that the Endowment has selected his friend and mentor, the noted American poet Delmore Schwartz for an award and grant, and is trying to locate him. Klonsky knows exactly where Schwartz is. In fact, in about an hour and a quarter at the conclusion of Romulus Linney's new one-act, two-character play, Klonsky and Schwartz, Klonsky will share this terrible knowledge with us. However, first Klonsky will tell us about their twenty-five year relationship and the commonalities in their backgrounds which helped to bind them together.
David Volin and John FitzGibbon
Linney's play is about many things. The identity problems of first generation Americans who love their immigrant parents, but are ashamed of their accents and patterns of speech. The pain and loneliness which can arise from being turned out by a spouse with whom one remains in love. The anguish and difficulty of coping with and channeling creative genius. However, in order to best understand and enjoy Klonsky and Schwartz pay close attention to the title.
Going in, one naturally expects to see a play about the major poet, Schwartz, with the little known Klonsky providing a unique perspective regarding him. The opening gambit, the NEA search for Schwartz, re-enforces this view. As the play develops, it is only a little more even-handed in its focus. However, in the end, it may well dawn upon you that it is with good reason (beyond it being possibly more euphonious) that Klonsky's name precedes Schwartz in the play's title. It seems that foremost, Linney is concerned with the deleterious effect that the charming and brilliant, yet cruelly self centered and paranoid Schwartz had on the underachieving and insecure, yet talented and loyal Klonsky (yet, as Schwartz states in the course of the play, if Klonsky's name were to survive over time, it would be because of Klonsky's relationship to him).
Although not known to a wide public (most articles note that he is the father of actress Laura Linney), author Romulus Linney is one of America's most distinguished playwrights. Linney has authored over twenty full-length plays, several short plays, and three novels. He has taught playwriting at Columbia (where he chaired the MFA Playwriting program), Princeton, Penn and the Yale School of Drama. Currently, Linney is a Professor of Playwriting in the Actors Studio MFA program at the New School. His highly regarded work covers subject matter with a wide global expanse and different historic eras. Still the Madison, Tennessee and Boone, North Carolina (where several of his plays have set) reared Linney is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
So who would have thought that Linney would have written a play in which his characters sometimes speak in the rhythms of such ethnic comic vaudevillians as Smith and Dale? Furthermore, throughout the play, the expressions and argot, and concerns of his protagonists, unerringly reflect speech and attitudes common to mid-twentieth century New York Jewish intellectuals. Of course, Linney has been intimate with such individuals, but his ear for their speech and empathy with them is as admirable as it is remarkable. Although his tale is a cautionary one, the style in which he tells it, along with his inclusion of some sharp excerpts from the pen of Delmore Schwartz, keeps things entertaining.
David Volin and John FitzGibbon fully embody Linney's portrait of Milton Klonsky and Delmore Schwartz. Volin's persona conveys likeability, kindness, enough smarts to kind to hold his own with Schwartz, and a vulnerability which renders him ineffective. FitzGibbon combines considerable charm with the bullying dominance and a very credible paranoid madness. Together, they deliver Linney's rapid fire, interlaced dialogue with the practiced ease of long time partners.
Much credit for the smooth integration of the work of Volin and FitzGibbon is due to NJ Rep Artistic Director SuzAnne Barabas, who has directed the play with skill and affection. Scenic Designer Jessica Parks has designed an impressionistic set with cutouts of New York City landmarks (including evocative signs for Klonsky and Schwartz restaurant hangouts, Katz's and the Automat) which nicely complement the play.
Although Linney has fictionalized any number of details, Klonsky and Schwartz illuminates essential truths.
Klonsky and Schwartz continues performances (Eves.: Thurs-Sat. 8 PM/ Mats.: Sat. 4 PM; Sun. 2 PM) through October 2, 2005 at the New Jersey Repertory Company Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740, Box Office: 732-229-3166; online www.njrep.org.
Klonsky and Schwartz by Romulus Linney; directed by SuzAnne Barabas