Regional Reviews: New Jersey
2 Lives Reveals Arthur Laurents in a Contemplative Mood
2 Lives, the new Arthur Laurents play at the George Street Playhouse is quite a change of pace for the veteran theatre giant. In his post musicals phase, Laurents has written several passionate plays about political and social issues. Completed in 1997 (about the time of his eightieth birthday), 2 Lives is a civilized, well crafted autumnal play in a Chekhovian mode. It is a deeply personal work, and on a personal level is as impassioned as the overtly political plays. The author's surrogate in 2 Lives displays a warmth which the often embattled Laurents has rarely shown to the public. Still, it makes clear that the fire still burns brightly in the loins of this lion in winter.
The traditionally structured 2 Lives depicts a weekend in the country. The setting is a small private park in a village in the Hamptons. It is the glory of an enclave made up of four homes owned by 76 year playwright Matt Singer (Tom Aldredge) and his partner of 35 years, 65 year old Howard Thompson (James Sutorius). Before meeting Matt, Howard had been a career failure as a result of alcoholism. Since then, Howard has designed, and continues to re-design and maintain the park as a tranquil sanctuary for Matt. Living with them in one of the houses is Howard's increasingly senile mother, Eloyse (Helen Gallagher) who comforts herself with reveries of old songs which she will begin to sing at frequent intervals.
Visiting is their long time friend Willi Thurman (Joanne Camp), a rich divorcee who dabbles in photography. She has brought her alluring English actress friend Nerissa Connor (Dee Hoty). Willi says Nerissa is there because she is anxious to meet Matt and Howard. However, there is an ulterior motive. It seems that staying at one of the houses is producer Leo Kondracki (Jim Bracchitta) who has committed to producing a new play that Matt is writing. Narissa wants to sell him on producing on Broadway a play in which she starred in London. The treacherous Willi is exploiting and betraying her friend Matt in order to facilitate her dalliance with Narissa. Also present are the slow witted, warm natured Scooter (Matt Cavenaugh) who is employed by Matt and Howard to tend to their property and his wife Maryanne (Jessica Dickey) who is attempting to get her catering business off the ground.
Amid the turbulence of the weekend, Laurents most touchingly and imaginatively conveys that the cornerstone of Matt's happiness and creative productivity is the love, devotion and support which he has received from Howard. As you have likely already concluded, Matt Singer is unabashedly a surrogate for author Arthur Laurents. In regard to 2 Lives, Laurents has written, " There is one autobiographical element that is as real and as strong in life as it is in the play the love of the two men at the center. That is the heart of the play just as it is the heart of the playwright's life".
Tom Aldredge is in fine fettle as the feisty and opinionated Matt Singer. It is a natural role for Aldredge and his simultaneously sharp and gravelly voice. He captures the complex and subtle shadings of the Laurents surrogate with effortless brilliance. There is a modesty in the performance of James Sutorius totally in keeping with Howard's character.
Dee Hoty conveys the mature sensuality and crafty humor which makes the aging Nerissa an enchantress. Hoty also believably conveys a tender side as her compassion for Matt grows. Joanne Camp brings a colder edge to the selfish Wili, accurately capturing, Laurents' unsparing and unforgiving depiction of a friend proven false. Helen Gallagher brings an ethereal quality to the role of Eloyse. It is a special pleasure to hear snippets of such songs as "Tea For Two" in the distinctive voice with which she graced several Broadway musicals.
David Saint has directed with a gentle touch. Saint has neither sought big effects nor allowed the pacing to flag. James Youmans' set design provides quite a chunk (oval, actually) of parkland. His striking framed three dimensional backdrop features a garden and trees. It appears to contain silk screened elements at varying levels.
The warm and funny2 Lives will enrich the lives of all who see it.
2 Lives will continue performances (Eves: Tues.-Sat. 8 PM/ Sun. 7 PM/ Mats Sat. & Sun. 2 PM (& Thu. 10/27 & 11/10-2 PM0 AT THE George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 08901; Box Office: 732-246-7717; online www.GSPonline.org/
2 Lives by Arthur Laurents; directed by David Saint