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"Parlour Song" Is a Familiar Tune
Directed by Neil Pepe
The Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th avenues
Opened March 5, 2008
Tues. thru Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
$55 (21) 279-4200
Closes April 4, 2008
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 14, 2008
Ned is deeply and hopelessly in love with his wife, Joy. But she is a callous slut, who is no longer interested in her pudgy, dull husband. What's worse, Ned has begun to notice that various object are disappearing from his home and suspects his wife is stealing them. Ned confides in his best friend, Dale, a trim, sexy guy who puts Ned on an exercise regime but keeps his predatory eye fixed on the seductive Joy.
Jez Butterworth's new play, "Parlour Song," wouldn't be much different from any of the soap operas we can see every day on television if not for its snappy dialogue, ambivalence, social satire and the vibrant performances of the three actors: Chris Bauer (Ned), Emily Mortimer (Joy) and Jonathan Cake (Dale). There's also a good deal of metaphor thrown in for good measure.
Ned is a demolitions expert who takes great pleasure in blowing up all sorts of buildings, including his wife's favorite shopping mall. Dale, after trying several lines of employment, has ended up washing cars.
In an especially moving scene, Ned tells Dale about an event that happened eleven years ago on his honeymoon. He and Joy were strolling down the street when they found a fifty pound note. After Joy remarks that this is a romantic and fortuitous find with mystical overtones, they decide to split the money and go their separate ways to purchase gifts for each other. Ned comes back with a gorgeous birdbath. Joy buys him a tie.
This scene certainly says it all. But so does the dinner scene in which Ned persists in trying to get his wife's attention, asking her repeatedly if each dish is to her liking, calling her his "cuddly toy" and trying to interest her in a bedtime game of "sexy scrabble." The highlight of his peroration comes when he describes in detail how he discovered a rat one day while on the job.
To beef up a story with a rather thin plot, Butterworth has Cake doing double duty as a narrator. This might have been meaningful if Dale revealed anything more during these soliloquies than we know already by his actions. Imagine Hamlet telling the audience not his innermost thoughts but what he was studying at the university.
Director Neil Pepe has done his part by adding many dramatic touches, both visual and aural. The show is filled with crashes and beeps, as well as bursts of light and frequently descending darkness. A scrim is plastered with notices informing us of the most important lines in the upcoming scenes. And Robert Brill's functional set lets the threesome move easily from living room (couch) to dining room (table and chairs) to bedroom (double bed).
"Parlour Song," like Butterworth's two other plays staged at Atlantic Theater Company, "Mojo" and "The Night Heron," takes place in contemporary Great Britain, in an area somewhere close to London. But the drama offers an apt depiction of an all too familiar (at least on stage) bleak view of the alienated, isolated and empty life endured by many couples.
If anyone thinks there is something vital and new in this story, they should rush to see "Parlour Song." Everyone else should look for something that has a more original (or at least more entertaining) view of humankind.
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