Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Hannah Senesh
Then imagine you are William Missouri Down's lifeless comedy about two Jewish couples, about to enter the next phase of their lives ... and that (instead of an actual emergency room) you've been wheeled into the highly esteemed HotCity Theatre for an attempt at resuscitation. It's really not that much of a leap, as metaphors go.
Two extremely intelligent, caring and photogenic young "doctors" set to work: pounding on your chest and forcing air into your lungs (we'll imagine actress Julie Layton is doing the breathing, because she's even better looking than the equally talented Richard Strelinger, as her husband). And both are absolutely committed to getting you (the play) back on your feet again.
But then the chief of staff comes in, glances at the monitors, and sees there's just not much hope in this tragic case. Let's assume that's Artistic Director (and director of the play) Marty Stanberry, in this imaginary hospital. Still, his brilliant, dedicated doctors won't give up, and the EKG and EEG begin to respond, albeit erratically.
So suddenly you're giving off some vague signs of life, and two more doctors come rushing inlooking like a couple of characters from Characterville, but wily and wise nonetheless.
And this new male doctor (Jerry Russo, in an all-too-rare return visit to the stage) administers one unit of Jackie Gleason and one unit of Fred Flintstone, which only makes you want to pass out all over again (face it, even your favorite doctors may make a little mistake now and then).
But then, to everyone's astonishment, the fourth doctor (Nicole Angeli, as Ms. Layton's wisecracking pal, and Russo's bickering spouse) seems to be injecting something real, honest and authentic into your veins, which you respond to miraculously. And everything seems much brighter all of a sudden. I think the FDA calls it "Snarkomax." But, sadly, such moments turn out to be few and far between.
Then you just go into this long, dreary spell in the theatrical equivalent of the ICU, passing in and out of consciousness. And only about ten percent of your jokes are producing decent laughs, which is neither a great sign of strength nor a terrible sign of doom, either.
After the break, Beth Wickenhauser magically appears out of nowhere to get us through the script's dismal masquerade in act two. She offers the solution to the play's "problem," and more or less takes our minds off of the play's real, serious, derivative, prefabricated problems too ... for the brief time she's out there, like an angel of mercy.
But I can't help thinking (based on the audience reaction throughout) that the four main actors are beginning to see Kosher Lutherans as a lost cause. And at the same time (I'm guessing), they also don't want to just "code it" and walk awaybecause everything in their decades of hard training, as givers-of-life, tells them they can save this hopeless patient. And, in fact, everything I've ever seen them in reassures me that maybe, possibly, they could be right.
Interestingly, for local theater insiders who've all been there themselves, it may even seem like a dramatic, life-and-death show-within-a-show, this group attempt to enliven a bad script. And, on this particular night, imagine the sheepish looks on their exhausted faces at curtain call, as an unseen hand pulls the sheet up over the body at last. It's all Beckett, behind the scenes.
Kosher Lutherans through December 21, 2013, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand (between the Fox Theatre and SLU). For more information visit www.hotcitytheatre.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association