Stage Directions
March 1, 2009

The Play's the Thing


Dialogue, not shtick, produces laughs in these plays

Physical comedy has its place, but this month’s round-up of new plays focuses on works whose wit derives primarily from clever, well written dialogue.

ImageIn Oscar Wilde’s witty The Importance of Being Earnest, Bunbury is an imaginary rural invalid created by Algernon to give him an excuse for leaving London whenever he chooses. Playwright Tom Jacobson has taken Bunbury and other offstage characters and given them their own play—called, naturally enough, Bunbury. Besides the title character, Jacobson introduces Rosaline, Romeo's unseen first love; Allen, the young husband of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire; and Sonny Jim, the imaginary son of George and Martha in Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? While the playwright has fun parroting their creators' styles, he also layers his comedy with hints of spirituality and idealism that echo his play’s subtitle, “A Serious Play for Trivial People.” While some may consider it a trivial play for serious people, Bunbury is an expert blend of farce, parody and philosophy. The play may be performed by as few as five males and three females, with all parts (13 males, 11 females) distributed among them. [Broadway Play Publishing,]

 Jewtopia, by Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson, tells the story of two 30-year-old single men, Chris O’Connell and Adam Lipschitz. Chris, a gentile, wants to marry a Jewish girl so he’ll never have to make another decision. Adam Lipschitz, a Jew, wants to marry a Jewish girl to please his family, but can’t get a date to save his life. After meeting at a Jewish singles mixer, Adam and Chris form a secret pact. Chris promises that he will help Adam find the girl of his dreams (and show him to “Jewtopia”) if Adam will help Chris shed his goy-ness and bring him, undercover, into the Jewish world. A lessthan- promising premise, perhaps, but when Jewtopia hits the mark—which is frequently—it’s very funny, indeed. Two males. [Samuel French,]

 Love Loves a Pornographer is a faux British Victorian farce that is a deeply silly and enjoyable period satire on sexual hypocrisy. Jeff Goode has set in the play an English drawing room, belonging to novelist Lord Loveworthy and his wife, Lady Lillian. Their guests are the Rev. Miles Monger, who works as a literary critic, and his wife, Millicent. While the couples await the arrival of the Loveworthys' daughter Emily and her new fiancé, Lord Loveworthy informs Monger of secrets that will prompt Monger to pay for Emily's wedding and give Loveworthy's latest book a rave review. The plot is simple, with some well-placed twists that keep it surprising. However, it serves mostly as a backdrop for Goode's clever dialogue and ingenious wordplay, perfectly suited to this comic tale of blackmail, adultery and cucumber sandwiches. Four males, three females. [Broadway Play Publishing]

 ImageDavid Mamet's comedy of ancient Roman manners, Keep Your Pantheon, focuses on an impoverished actor-manager and his troupe, struggling to survive under an absurdly autocratic military regime. On the brink of eviction, they are offered a lucrative engagement. But through a series of comic mishaps, the troupe finds its problems have actually multiplied, and they are about to learn a different meaning of "dying on stage." This is Mamet at his most entertaining, and as usual, he endows his characters with a sharply focused sense of wordplay, punctuated by a coarse and sometimes delightfully abusive tone. Eleven males. [Samuel French]

ImageAnne Garcia-Romero’s Earthquake Chica is set in the office of a Los Angeles law firm, where Esmeralda, the office secretary, and Sam, an accountant, struggle through the mundane activities of their daily lives. Esmeralda is an outspoken Latina, out of touch with her own culture and looking to do something more with her life. Sam is very much in tune with his Latin roots, particularly its prose and poetry, but inept when it comes to social situations. The two hit it off at a Christmas party and soon, new worlds begin to open up for both of them. Garcia-Romero has a strong ear for dialogue, as her two characters thrust and parry, shifting from offense to defense and back again, hoping to find an advantage, as both characters learn an unforgettable lesson in how to love. One female, one male. [Broadway Play Publishing]

Image Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th century classic, The Rivals, has been published in a newly edited version for modern audiences by William-Alan Landes. The plot centers on two young lovers. Lydia, who reads romance novels, wants a purely romantic love affair. To court her, Jack pretends to be “Ensign Beverly,” a poor officer. Lydia loves the idea of eloping with a poor soldier, but her guardian, Mrs. Malaprop, thinks otherwise. Mrs. Malaprop is the chief comic figure of the play, thanks to her continual misuse of words that sound like the words she intends but mean something completely different. (“She’s as stubborn as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.”) The farce has lost little of its entertainment value over the past two centuries, and like The Importance of Being Earnest, its take on love and manners still rings true. Twelve males, six females, one boy. [Players Press,]