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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the MTC Biltmore, New York

By Diane Snyder

  (Pictured, L-R) Mark Linn Baker, Matthew Arkin, Patricia Kalember, Michele Pawk (Photo/Joan Marcus, 2006)

It's hard to pick the most painfully offensive moment in Losing Louie, a play overflowing with them. Is it when '60s housewife Bobbie Ellis (Rebecca Creskoff), a woman trying to hold on to cheating husband Louie (Scott Cohen), goes into labor but offers to complete the blow job promised to her husband before going to the hospital?

Maybe it's a scene that takes place 40 years later and shows things aren't much better for women that marry the Ellis men. Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember), whose husband is Louie's son, shows up for Louie's funeral minus her wedding ring. But she's still wearing it on her body - it's just sticking out of her newly pierced clitoris rather than around her finger. (We're spared the sight, thank you very much.)

Not that it's clear why any woman would go to such lengths to stay married to either of Louie's two sons. Reggie (Matthew Arkin), the one whose wife mutilated herself to save their flagging marriage, is a wealthy, demanding bastard, while Tony (Mark Linn-Baker), his brother - or half-brother, as they're soon to discover - wallows in self-pity and resentment. But Dad's funeral, the centerpiece of this myopic excavation of adults coping with their childhood pain, moves them to open up to each other like never before. In one cringe-inducing moment, Tony asks Reggie, "What's it like to have foreskin?" The discussion that ensues is neither amusing nor particularly enlightening.

Still, there's a fluid theatricality as the play shifts from past to present without leaving the locale of Louie's bedroom. And better direction could have made this a more bearable production. But author Simon Mendes da Costa, whose play received acclaim in London last year, has been partnered with Jerry Zaks, who approaches the project with sitcom-like precision -- as if he were directing another episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. He plays up the contrived comedy, which produces two-dimensional characters, when what's needed is subtlety to transform them into full-blooded beings. 

As a result, the performances - from a mostly fine ensemble of stage actors - are largely one-note tunes. Only Pawk, as Tony's no-nonsense wife, emerges unscathed. The usually reliable Linn-Baker is all resentment and sullenness, so rather than sympathizing with his with his gripes about his father and brother, you want to scream, "Grow up and get over it." Although the characters are dealing with some very adult matters, they act and talk like whiny, anguished teenagers.

Diane Snyder has written for Time Out New York, The Wall Street Journal and American Theatre. 


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