Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Poetic License: Entertaining Variations
Anything there is to be told about Poetic License can only detract from the pleasure of discovering this play for oneself. Jack Canfora's new play is a light entertainment whose devices are most effective when they catch one by surprise. There is nothing profound here (although the clever author and production may well have you thinking differently until after the final curtain descends), and the author's literate and deftly comic set-up nicely disguises his intentions most entertainingly. Thus, if you are contemplating attending this production, I recommend that you do so without reading further.
The rest is for those still with me. Canfora has written his variation of an oft repeated plot which has oft times been employed effectively. This is the one in which a (usually young) person uses deception to gain access to the home of an elder of high reputation and accomplishment. He carries with him a shameful dark secret from the elder's past which, if true (and in time it almost always turns out that it is), exposes the dishonest hypocrisy on which his standing is based. The secret rips at the fabric of the elder's closest personal relationships and disgrace awaits him. Oh, and there is always an unexpected connection between the dreaded interloper and the elder which is torturing and driving on the interloper.
Katherine Greer and her roommate-lover Edmund (cutely) gain entrance to the home of her parents. The young lovers, both writers of poetry, have arrived for a birthday celebration for her father, Pulitzer Prize winning poet and university professor John Greer. Greer expects that in short order he will be named the nation's poet laureate. Katherine is most concerned about being able to endure the overbearing, embarrassing behavior of her self-aggrandizing mother Diane. The audience is comfortably ensconced in a family comedy. The lines are sharp and fit comfortably into the mouths of this erudite crew. Katherine opines that, "when it comes to their children, most parents consider hypocrisy wisdom." Diane asks Kath to cut vegetables because, "I don't want to hear from PETA next week saying I used excessive force in chopping the carrots." Notice the way that last quote is written. It is shorthanded in the manner that an educated person would speak, but never write. It displays author Jack Canfora's fine hand with dialogue.
The extended, disarming byplay heightens the shocking moment when the thus far charming Edmund turns to John, and says, "I've been fucking your daughter a couple of months now; and I've had to stop myself from telling her things about you."
For the rest (much of which I'm certain many of you have already discerned), it is skillfully written with a full measure of doubts, defenses, jolting revelations, angst and exploration of character.
Each actor fully rounds out his/her character as well as the melodrama. Douglas Scott Sorenson is particularly convincing as Edmund. It is the most difficult role because of conflicting strains in his behavior. Sorenson manages to strike notes of youthful impetuousness which feel real and electric. Anna O'Donoghue plays Katherine as a bruised but spunky young woman. As later events unfold, O'Donoghue is plaintive as she delineates Katherine's pain with small strokes. The convincing John Little effectively uses slight gradations in the stiffness of his speech and body movements to portray the unraveling of the poet-professor. Nancy Ringham as Diane is delightful, and properly not quite as exasperating as Kath's description of her. This interpretation feels right as, after all, she is not our mother. Ringham handles her dramatic scenes with a sense of hard earned dignity.
Director Evan Bergman has created a smooth, fluid production which captures all of the play's melodramatic twists and turns with maximum effectiveness. Bergman has done wonderful work with all of his actors, one of whom (John Little) had a very short time to assume his role after personal circumstances forced his predecessor to withdraw from the production.
New Jersey Repertory produced the world premiere of author Jack Canfora's rewarding comedy Place Setting (also directed by Evan Bergman) in the Spring of 2007. In providing a stage for the work of Jack Canfora and other developing, talented authors, the New Jersey Rep is performing an invaluable service for the American theatre.
Poetic License continues performances through (Evenings: Thursday, - Saturday 8 p.m./ Matinees: Saturday 3 p.m.; Sunday 2 p.m.) through October 5, 2009 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166; online: www.njrep.org.
Poetic License by Jack Canfora; directed by Evan Bergman