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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

World Premiere Touch of Rapture
at New Jersey Rep

Touch of Rapture
Marnie Andrews, John FitzGibbon, Davis Hall
As Clovis lies in her sickbed about to die, she says to her husband Quince, “take my hands.” She is not looking for comfort and companionship. Clovis is literally passing on to Quince her skills as a sculptress. Thus begins Mary Fengar Gail’s new comedy which employ elements of magic realism, Touch of Rapture.

Clovis had never shown her work. Believing it to be frivolous, Quince, a Sudsbury (England) art gallery proprietor, would not display it. In fact, she has left all her sculptures (largely goddesses from Greek mythology) to her brother Garlin, a London attorney.

Under a pseudonym, Quince exhibits new sculptures which he has produced using the skills “handed” to him by Clovis. Garlin descends on Quince’s home with a subpoena, as it appears irrefutable that they are works of Clovis which now belong to him.

After Quince explains the situation and demonstrates his new found skill, he and Garlin agree to work together to market the pseudonymous art. However, they decide to find a living person (“the world puts the artist in place of the art”) to pose as the true sculptor. They settle on Clovis and Garlin’s elderly, unkempt cousin Rosemary (more on her later). It becomes evident early on where all of this is going to lead as the “take my hands” roundelay continues.

There is much that is promising in Ms. Gail’s play. There are any number of bright, funny lines; interesting ideas about the nature of art and artists and dismissive attitudes toward women (this is a feminist play); and the storyline is intriguing. However, the overall result is well short of satisfying.

Let us get back to Rosemary. She is the hero of Ms. Gail’s comedy. Garlin and, most especially, Quince think very poorly of her. Before they bring her out to Sudsbury, we hear from them that the retired bookstore clerk is reclusive, fat, ugly and poor. She smokes cigars, perspires heavily and smells like boiled cabbage. Garlin describes her as “the dimmest bulb in the (family) marquee.”

Despite her proximity, it is totally beyond credulity that Quince and Garlin would even consider her to be the living embodiment of the artist. As delightfully played by Marnie Andrews, Rosemary does arrive on the scene in a frumpy dress with her hair messily askew. She also gives the men other reasons not to choose her. She informs them that “my eyes twitch when I’m nervous, and I’m nervous when I lie.” She demonstrates that she is a chow hound; starting to shake hands, she finds that each hand is clutching a teacake.

The actually not very fat Rosemary is likeable from the start. In short order, we learn that she is extremely bright. Her “vocation” is that of “devout reader,” and she has expert knowledge of Greek mythology. When there is a reception for her unveiling to the critics, Rosemary describes it as evoking Greek theatre with “everybody gazing and grazing.” Thus, when she is transformed into an attractive mature lady via a new coiffure and a neat dress, it is no big stretch. That she is the true spiritual extension of Clovis has been clear practically from the get-go. It is hard to accept that Quince and Garlin are dumb enough to take so long to realize that she is not the ogre that they had thought that they knew.

Another problem is that in “taking” Rosemary’s hands, we have to believe that her successors have taken on her artistic sensibility. Author Gail makes it impossible for us to suspend disbelief here, as Quince comes to realize that he remains “basically a peddler” without artistic sensibility.

There is a related misstep with which Ms. Gail abandons logic for a few laughs. Garlin now “with Clovis’ hands” wants to “embrace” Quince. He relates to Rosemary that “I haven’t had such feelings since Cambridge.” As his goddesses are becoming more masculine and muscular, Rosemary refers to them as “butch.” She opines that he should sculpt male gods. You can close this circle of illogic.

John FitzGibbon is a satisfactory Quince, but there is no distinctiveness here. More interesting and entertaining is Davis Hall’s Garlin. Hall has a crisp, combative bantam approach not unlike that of Tony Randall in similar roles.

Director Stewart M. Schulman keeps things moving quickly and smoothly, which seems the way to go with this material. However, Schulman should probably receive the lion’s share of the blame for Carrie Mossman’s wildly misguided set. In fairness to Miss Mossman, there are clever aspects to it, namely the placement of sculptures and the pieces themselves. However, the use of an all white, under furnished, abstract set undermines the play. The set suggests that we are watching an absurdist, avant-garde or expressionist play. This is an old fashioned comedy (with a little of that magic realism) and needs a detailed realistic set in order to help involve us in its story and characters. The scenic design here is extremely off putting and at cross purpose to the script at hand. The failure to list any scenes, times or location in the program adds to the feeling of dislocation.

Author Mary Fengar Gail demonstrates potential here. With a more appropriate set and considerable rethinking, her Touch of Rapture could have a future in smaller theatres, stock, and community theatre.

(Concurrent with the run of Touch of Rapture , there is an exhibit of eleven (mostly) large bronze sculptures of Israeli-American artist David Levy in the Dwek Studio at NJ Rep. The large pieces feature often humorously voluptuous women. I found the sculpture Levy has named “Lady with Dummy” particularly felicitous. The sculptures are for sale. The prices are substantial. Viewing, which is recommended, is a nice, viable pleasure for most of us.)

Touch of Rapture continues performances through February 20, 2005 at the New Jersey Repertory Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166; online www.njrep.org

Touch of Rapture by Mary Fingar Gail; directed by Stewart M. Schulman
Cast
Quince .......... JOHN FITZGIBBON
Garlin .......... DAVIS HALL
Rosemary .......... MARNIE ANDREWS


Photo: SuzAnne Barabas


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- Bob Rendell



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