Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Marlo Thomas shines in Moving Right Along
Magic Theatre, now in its 40th season of premiering new plays, is presenting through November 19th a collection of three one-act plays about life and death, two written by Elaine May (who also directs, with Jeannie Berlin). Marlo Thomas is dynamite in the third one-act comedy-drama called George Is Dead.
The opening forty-minute piece is a murky comedy starring Mark Rydell called Killing Trotsky by Czech playwright Jan Mirochek and translated by Herbert Kotik. It takes place in the dingy room of Max (Mark Rydell) in 1998 Czechoslovakia. Max is a failed playwright who seems obsessed with death. His prior plays have been Death of Stalin, Death of Communism, and the current one is Death of Trotsky. Theatrical producer Otto (Reed Martin) does not want to produce Max's play because it is just too depressing. The Velvet Revolution generation writer will not be able to display his latest social masterpiece.
Max contemplates suicide by jumping out the very tiny window of his grungy apartment. He put a long dissertation on his answering machine that starts with, "This is the late Max," and goes into a diatribe on the state of the world. However, Max can't get his bulky frame into the tiny window that is only half open. Most of the comedy takes place with Max straddling the windowsill with one leg out and one leg in. Max's landlady (Wanda McCaddon) comes into the room just as good news arrives that Max's play will be produced after all. However, the landlady believes it would help the play if Max jumps to his death anyway. Max's lover Anna (Julia Brothers) saves the day so Max can live to see his play.
Killing Trotsky is much too long and it bogs down after Max is perched on the windowsill. Mark Rydell is miscast as Max. He lacks any assurance in the role. His social anger does not ring true when talking about the end of the Velvet revolution. Wanda McCaddon, sporting an excellent middle European accent, gives a polished performance in the role of the landlady. Julia Brothers has little to do in this segment but to look worried as the lover of Max.
The second segment, On the Way, is a twenty-minute bridge between the two plays. Rich Republican George (Mark Rydell) is being taken to the airport in a limo driven by an undereducated Dominican, Freddie (Daveed Diggs). The pastiche is a dialogue on the current state of affairs and what history has to do with the current situation. It all starts when Freddie asks seriously, "Was Hitler a real person?" Freddie has not a clue about World War II, the Cold War or even the politics of his native country. When George tries to explain that knowing past history might help understand current history, the driver calmly replies, "Why bother, since persons will continue to do the same things they always do time after time so why know history?"
Mark Rydell gives a good performance as the wealthy George while Daveed Diggs is appealing, with an excellent Dominican accent, as the driver.
George Is Dead is by far the best of the trio with a delightful and comic performance by Marlo Thomas as newly widowed Doreen. She has just learned that her husband George (from the second sequence) has just died in a skiing accident. Doreen is a spoiled, superficial, mindless middle-aged woman who has no friends. She awakens her childhood friend Carla (Julia Brothers), whom she has not seen in thirty years, in the middle of the night. Carla was the daughter of Doreen's nanny (Wanda McCaddon) and they were playmates growing up in Doreen's home.
Doreen is completely mindless as to what to do about her dead husband whose body is still in Aspen waiting to be carted home. Carla, who is the exact opposite of Doreen, has to take matters into her own hands. When Carla tries to tell Doreen what to do, the mechanical woman appears not to be listening as she rattles on about everything but George's death. Carla asks, "Are you listening to me?" to which Doreen replies, "I never listen to anybody."
Elaine May is is at the top of her form in the writing of this first class comic piece. The interplay between the two characters is flawless. Marlo Thomas, in a blonde wig looking like a Barbie doll or a wasp version of Charo, is brilliant as the ditzy widow. As the play continues, she carefully reveals the hurt she carries inside. She becomes a lost woman hooked on watching old sitcoms on Carla's television set. Julia Brothers gives an absorbing performance as she underplays the role of the new-found friend. Reed Martin as Carla's antagonist husband and Wanda McCaddon give pointed cameos at key spots in the thirty-minute comedy-drama.
James Mulligan's set designs are excellent, ranging from the dingy apartment of the Czech play writer to a cozy New York middle class apartment. David Robinson lights skillfully the passage of midnight to the morning hours in the third segment. Norman Kern's sound is first class, especially when Doreen is hugging the television, listening to old television series theme songs (fortunately, "That Girl"'s theme song is not one of them.)
Moving Right Along will play at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco through November 19th. For tickets please call 415-441-8822 or go to www.magictheatre.org.