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Paulanne Simmons

“Outward Bound” Is and Inward Journey

“Outward Bound”
Directed by Robert Kalfin
Keen Company
Urban Stages Theater
259 W. 30th St.
Opened April 16, Closes May 8
Tues. thru Sat. 8 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
$19, SmartTix (212) 868-4444
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 15, 2005

In the Keen Company’s revival of Sutton Vane’s 1924 Broadway hit, “Outward Bound,” the stage is transformed into a luxurious ocean liner’s smoking room, tastefully designed by Nathan Heverin. But as the play progresses, it becomes obvious that this is no ordinary ship and no ordinary voyage.

The details are slowly revealed: the ship is almost empty, there is only one class and finally, no one knows where the ship is heading or why they are on it.

Robert Kalfin directs Outward Bound with a careful attention to both its very real human themes – hope and despair, good and evil, punishment and reward – and the otherworldly tone of this eerie drama.

There are nine characters in the play.

Seven of the characters are passengers: Ann (Kathleen Early) and Henry (Joe Delafield), a nervous young couple with an awful secret; Tom Prior (Gareth Saxe), a broken alcoholic with a biting sense of humor; Mrs. Cliveden-Banks (the delightful Laura Esterman), a snide, supercilious and self-absorbed rich widow; Rev. Duke (Clayton Dean Smith) a minister who isn’t sure about the power of prayer; Mrs. Midget (Susan Pellegrino), a charwoman with a big heart and Mr. Lingley, (Michael Pemberton), a businessman who believes in organization – even of the unknown and unknowable.

Scrubby (the solid and steady Wilbur Edwin Henry) is the ship’s steward and their spiritual escort.

Rev. Thompson (Drew Eliot) is the Examiner who meets the passengers at the end of their journey.

Each of the passengers has his own story which the actors unfold with irony and understanding. The humor can be intense. At the same time they make apparent the subtle differences between the characters’ public and private face. Even before the Examiner arrives, there is something strongly confessional about Outward Bound.

When Vane (a shell-shocked British World War I veteran) wrote Outward Bound in 1923, the play was considered so weird he could not find a producer and finally rented a theater in London to stage his work. Outward Bound had better luck in the United States, where it was produced on Broadway in 1924 with an all-star cast that included Alfred Lunt and Leslie Howard and revived in 1938 under the direction of Otto Preminger. More recently, one sees echoes of Outward Bound in TV shows like Rod Serling’s ever-popular “The Twilight Zone.”

Part mystery, part thriller, part morality play, in the end Outward Bound is nothing less than edge-of-the seat compelling. There are a dead husbands, a barking dog, murky seas, lonely decks, bitter memories and eternity. What else could any theatergoer want? [Simmons]

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