Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Psychopathia Sexualis knocked the socks off this reviewer while Woody and Me was a boring talky thesis on sexual harassment
John Patrick Shanley's Psychopathia Sexualis has ended its successful run to full houses at Theatre Works. The play was originally produced by the Seattle Repertory Theatre in March, 1996 and subsequently by Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper in LA in May of the same year. It opened off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club on Feb. 26, 1997 and had a successful run. It also got rave reviews from the New York critics.
Theatre Works presented the Northern California premier of the hilarious new comedy with a splendid cast of players impeccable in their timing. The Psychopathia sordid little plot centers around Arthur, an artist plagued with a peculiar sexual neurosis. He can't complete "the act" with his beloved Lucille unless a certain pair of ancient argyle socks once belonging to his father are within his reach. The real problem arrives when, 10 days before his wedding day, his "evil" psychiatrist, Dr. Block, steals his socks.
Arthur puts his problem to his best friend Howard, a retired mutual fund manager. He tells his friend about the evil Dr. Block. He asks Howard to pose as a patient and try to retrieve the stocks. Howard goes along with the plan as a favor to Arthur. The "evil" doctor outwits Howard in a very funny sequence and makes Howard into a meek and helpless person. Howard has told the doctor about his dreams and the doctor convinces him that the patient is a closet homosexual. The poor guy becomes a dweeb
The second act introduces us to Arthur's fiance Lucille who is a female John Wayne from the great state of Texas. In fact, her apartment is decorated with posters from John Wayne's movies. She too tries to outwit the doctor but she is also outwitted by the psychiatrist. The ending is done in a John Wayne cavalry style with the three dweebs descending upon the mad evil doctor.
The play's resolution comes not from the redemption of the Holy Grail-like hose, that is just a symbol. What restores order is each character's recognizing his or her place in the pecking order and making a comfortable nest there.
The central delight of the production is Darren Bridgett, a very talented Bay area actor. His inspired physical manifestations of Arthur's self loathing incorporate a grand repertoire of tics and tortured half gestures. The ultimate is his initial confession to Howard, during which he puts his hands between his knees and starts hyperventilation.
Dr. Block's joyous pomposity is exquisitely executed by Thomas A Gomez. Possessing the play's only extended monologues, Mr. Gomez has the challenge of delivering psychology filled speeches without being boring. He not only meets the challenge but excels at his given task. Giving possibly the best performance in the bunch, Mr. Gomez was in serious danger of being the worst, and his triumph deserves to be applauded.
Marin van Young plays the Texan Lucille to the hilt. She is described by Howard as a "hillbilly Aztec Evita" and plays exactly to that description. She is backed up by another subtly sublime performance from Rebecca Dines as Howard's wife Ellie. Dan Hiatt is superb as Howard and his scenes with the doctor in the first act are priceless.
Shanley raises the question of whether we in the 20th Century have carried the self knowledge thing a little too far, whether sometimes we'd be better off just living with our little perversions rather then endlessly dissecting them. This might seem a little too deep for this over the top comedy but the director Amy Gonzales and crew don't let it get in the way of the play. She makes you laugh your socks off. The play closed on Sunday to a full house.
Woody and Me by Chicago playwright Brad Erickson had its world premier at the Studio of the Rhinoceros Theatre. The play opens in the offices of a film professor at an unknown college in California. A young 19 year old male hunk student majoring in religion comes to the teacher's office to ask him a favor. The student want to change the course of his life to become a film maker. He needs a letter of recommendation from the professor to UCLA famous film school. He has already obtained a letter from his other teacher, a female professor of philosophy. Now he needs this most important letter.
Needless to say the older professor finds the young man sexually attractive and in fact offers him a glass of Pinot Noir. He tries very slyly to seduce him. We learn that the 50's something professor had had a lover 10 years prior but lost him to Jesus Christ. The prior lover went to a monastery.
The professor realizes his moral dilemma since the young man is getting turned on by the advances and conversations. It seems that the young man is still a virgin and that he is subconsciously attracted to older men. The two have long boring talks about God, sex, love and films of Woody Allen. They talk mostly about Annie Hall, their most favorite Woody Allen film. You can see the play is going nowhere since it just becomes a thesis on sex and love.
The second act livens a bit with the appearance of the female philosophy professor. She is an elderly female who looks like a butch lesbian. At this time, the young student has declared his love for the elderly professor and attempts to sexual seduce him. While this is occurring, the female professor walks in and thinks the professor is the aggressor. The play suddenly becomes a camp comedy. Now we have a on discussion of sexual harassment. Who is the blame for the attack. Also can a relationship between a student and his teacher be a long lasting relationship. It is all very complicated.
The writing is just fair, too many long speeches and very little action. Too much discussion of theories from Freud to Jung. Its almost a lecture of Woody Allen films. This play just does not go anywhere.
The acting of the three member play was just adequate. Kikelomo Adedeji had the best lines and was the best of the group on the acting track. She played the lesbian professor. Kevin Clark, a dancer with one of SF modern dance group, played the young student. He had about 10 facial expressions, all mechanical. He has an excellent theater voice but he has got to tone down those expressions. This theater holds only 40 persons and he is playing to an audience at Radio City Music Hall. Brad Erickson, the playwright, played the professor and was just adequate. This play needs a serious rewrite and some better actors. Woody and Me closed last night.
- Richard Connema