Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Nicky Silver's Beautiful Child has West Coast Premiere
Nicky Silver's controversial black comedy Beautiful Child is having its West Coast premiere on the Theatre Rhinoceros main stage. The comedy-drama had its world premier February 2004 at the off Broadway Vineyard Theatre with George Gizzard, Penny Fuller, Kaitlin Hopkins, Steven Pasquale and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros.
Nicky Silver, who wrote Food Chain, usually writes smart and contemporized comedy with sophisticated dialogue that gives insight into the current mores of today's world. However, in Beautiful Child he over stretches himself to combine comedy and drama. It seems to be an awkward hodgepodge of a frenzied domestic comedy to creative philosophical monologues with a conclusion that reeks of Oedipus Rex. There is an apparent use of symbolism involved in the five characters of this two-hour jumble of comedy and stark drama. Obviously, the playwright is influenced by Edward Albee and maybe even Tony Kushner, but Mr. Silver never reaches their heights in this drama. There is witty dialogue one moment and then a woeful confession the next.
Beautiful Child concerns a very unsettling subject, with an attempt to a thirtyish-year-old teacher ostensibly in love with an eight-year-old boy. Isaac (Matt Weimer) the art teacher arrives at the home of his parents (Donald Currie and Adrienne Krug), who probably should have been divorced long ago since the husband is getting no sex from his iceberg wife. In fact, we first witness Harry the husband carrying on in his suburban home with his mistress Delia (Libby O'Connell) who is a real kook. The play starts out like a farce with the wife coming in just after the hanky panky between the two. Delia slinks out of the home and a real cat fight occurs between the married folks. Comedy stops as soon as Isaac shows up to seek "refuge" in his parents' home. He tells his parents that he must leave his job and his apartment in the city because of a romantic attachment to the grade school student. One is reminded of Albee's tragicomedy The Goat or Who is Sylvia here. The parents are not thrilled about this new twist, since they always considered Issac a beautiful child when he was growing up. What are the parents to do, hide and protect the childish son even though it confronts their moral values and their contented suburban life (even through the husband likes to play around)? They've known the son is gay, but being in love with an eight-year-old boy is just a little too much for their moral standards.
Isaac does not know what all the fuss is about. He is vaguely unaware of the moral or legal consequences of his act. His retort is "You don't understand, I love him," as if this is all that matters. The second act opens with Isaac happily painting Delia, who somehow comes back into the house on some sort of pretense and immediately becomes a model. Other characters appear in the darker second act. The appearances of the son's long ago therapist Dr. Elizabeth Hilton and the mother of the eight-year-boy seem to be dream sequences or something from an absurdist play. (Both are played by Ann Lawler.) There is even a trial by the parents who become judges, with Delia becoming the "court stenographer." The therapist from Isacc's childhood becomes a witness as to what made Isaac a "beautiful child" in an adult body. I won't give the ending but think of Oedipus Tyrannos.
Beautiful Child tries to be all things in two short hours: a comedy, a moral drama, an American tragedy like the ancient Greek dramas, a sex farce and even a strange courtroom drama. The acting on the part of the five cast members is competent, although some of the longer soliloquies seem stilted. They are largely of divergent meanings.
Matt Weimer (Man Who Came to Dinner and Awe About Eve at the Rhino) plays the childlike Isaac adroitly; however, he does very little to humanize this childlike person, even with a long soliloquy in the second act that can barely be heard past the second row of the small theatre. (On the night we saw him, he was not projecting past the front rows and, as a result, the scene was totally lost to most of the small audience.) This is unfortunate since this speech shows what makes Issac tick.
Donald Currie, who was excellent in his solo production of Sex and Mayhem at the NCTC, seems completely lost in this production. He generates no fire, even in confrontations with his wife or mistress. Adrienne King (Sleeping with Straight Men) as the typical suburban ice-cold wife is good in her mood swings from first class bitch to a woman full of grief and guilt at the end of the play. Libby O'Connell (Man Who Came to Dinner) has the best and showiest lines as the whacky Delia who plays her role for laughs. She is definitely a character from a farcical play, a welcome release from the drudgery of the play. Ann Lawler does what she can with her two roles, and she looks like and acts like a proper child therapist.
Set Designer Erik Flatmo has fashioned a living room set that has good detail of an upscale middle class suburban home, using a bit of the right side of the stage as an outside patio area. John Dixon's direction is taut and smooth.
Beautiful Child ran through April 24th at the Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th Street between Mission and South Van Ness, San Francisco.
Casual Encounters by Maureen Bogues and Karole Langlois, a scintillating new play with a lesbian theme, is now playing in the studio space through May 1. The next production on the main stage will be Big Big Love II - The Fat Bottom Burlesque opening on May 5th through May 22 and Medea: the Musical returns on May 26th.