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Larry Litt

Chamber Music

Written By Arthur Kopit
Directed by Robert F. Cole
Presented by Mortals Theater and Gray Lady Entertainment
Gene Frankel Theater
24 Bond St. NYC
Reviewed April 12, 2008

Eight woman live in the same ward of a mental institution, each believing they're the embodiment of other famous women. They interact at their ward's annual organization board meeting. The organization does nothing. Seems harm less enough. Except they're all status crazed, a microcosm of the outside world. They have nowhere to go but back to their beds with their desires. This trapped crew's existential absurdity is Kopit's theatrical strength. He creates models of the ridiculous and pompous in human relations. Who needs plots when people are so deliciously and riotously interesting? When they're so afraid and in such obvious pain. We can't help them because they can't help themselves.

Director Robert Cole knows successful Kopit theater demands major performances. This cast has to be ready for a moment's understated or over the top personality shifts. We must pay attention or we'll miss a word or a beat in the collective madness. Of course they're not who they say they are. However mad woman acts as if their famous alter ego is the woman who possesses their soul.

Kopit/Cole actresses they must serve us at least three layers of convincing character. Actress, character and character's character, all while appearing both mad and sane. Luanne Surace as Mozart's wife memorably calls to an invisible Wolfgang in a plaintive and ecstatic voice, reliving joys, happiness and enlightenment. Judy Merrick rough houses the rest of the ladies as the famed wild society huntress Osa Johnson making her aggressive femininity a pleasure to watch. Kim Vasquez forcefully and poetically reads meeting minutes as Gertrude Stein, equally as boring, yet potently boring. Laura Spaeth's high cheeked beauty, costume, regal silence and quizzicality focus our attention on imagined aristocracy. Victoria Boomswa bellows mocking rebellion as Amelia Earhart. Julianne Nelson knows she's nothing more than a silent screen star with her fluid, vapid sexuality haunting any show or place she's in. Margaret Catov delivers delightful comic skill as a wonderfully silly cross bearing Joan of Arc. Dan Snow as the institution's visiting doctor is the eternally ominous fearsome male presence. Doctor's assistant Omar Abdali adds subtle energy and character to the stage.

The ensemble works and leads us to the murderous conclusion of apocalyptic mayhem. Perhaps Kopit reminding us there's a little bit of chamber music in all our lives.


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