BY STEPHEN DiLAURO |
“Murder Among Friends”
By Bob Barry
Presented by the Amateur Comedy Club, Sniffen Court, Manhattan
The Amateur Comedy Club, the oldest theatrical society in America, is celebrating its 140th season with “Murder Among Friends,” a delightful comedy that first ran on Broadway almost 50 years ago. Who will kill who is the crux of the matter. Multiple murder plots unravel and witty repartee prevails as the world’s fourth-richest woman — played with verve by Rachel Marcus — connives to put a bullet into her pompous Broadway star of a husband — superbly acted by Tyler Hathaway — with the help of his agent (her lover), played by a lusty Cesar Vera. All the action takes place on New Year’s Eve 1975.
Toss into this mix a Broadway producer — a marvelous turn by Eric Kuzmuk, probably Off Off and Off Broadway’s most underrated character actor — and his wife Gert, who is played with just the right note of confusion by Maggie Wagner — and there you have it, almost. Eamon JL Wood hits all the right notes as a Seventies disco sleazeball. Saying much more about the twisty, sexy plot could spoil the fun. Director Marshall Mays is to be complimented for the unerring timing. (It’s too bad the same cannot always be said about the tech side of the production, which was the weakest element the night I saw it.)
The Clubhouse, located in Sniffen Court in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, is a national historic landmark. (Full disclosure: ACC kicked off this season in September with two staged readings of my new play, “Dinner with the Devil.” I am not a member of the club.) You must know a member or be a member of the club to get tickets to any of their productions.
Nonetheless, the Amateur Comedy Club is one of the least-stuffy private clubs I’ve encountered. And they have a membership drive on right now.
By No. 11 Productions
59 E. 59th Street Theaters
Unless you have an immediate family member in the cast, I can think of no reason you should waste 70 minutes watching this inchoate mess. Ostensibly about Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, his collaborator and wife, “Pair” fails miserably in telling their story. Written by something called the No. 11 Productions, the piece presumes a knowledge of this duo and their work, on the part of the audience, that is unrealistic.
I’ve written about contemporary art and artists for decades and this piece left me confused and frustrated. Then, there’s a dancing, singing, talking pear that may be an attempt to bring a play on words to life but otherwise seems utterly unrelated to the artists’ story, despite Emily Bautista’s wholehearted best efforts with a clichéd show-style score and silly lyrics. It adds to the overall confusion and disjointed feel that is the show’s general aesthetic, if you can call it that.
Being a playwright, I’m always on guard against jealousy when reviewing a new work. This one was so bad that I asked a woman outside the theater afterward what she thought.
“It felt amateurish and pointless.”
What did she think of the music?
“The songs were when I began to shudder.”
O.K. It wasn’t just me.
The dialogue is stiff, with a fair amount of highfalutin art speak. Julie Congress, as Coosje, displays strong acting chops. Steven Conroy, as Oldenberg, comes across as having the charm and artistry of a newly minted insurance salesman.
There may be a play in the story of this loving artistic collaboration, and perhaps someone will write it someday. “Pair” is certainly not it. The only thing here worthy of association with these artists’ names is the giant drawing pad that is the set piece.
I’ve been reviewing theater off and on since the early 1980s. I tried to think of a presentation less deserving of precious not-for-profit production funds. Nothing came to mind. So much for writing by committee.
“Tragedy Plus Time”
By Ed Byrne
Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St.
If there’s such a thing as “must-see comedy,” Ed Byrne is it. His act is hilarious, poignant, edgy and more than a wee bit Irish. I laughed harder and more than I ever recall laughing. The rest of the audience at Soho Playhouse was equally enthusiastic and entertained. Byrne manages to turn a family tragedy into a relentless laugh fest.
Byrne is a seasoned performer and something of a television sensation everywhere English is spoken, except the USA. He has hosted and starred in television programs for the BBC and the Canadian CBC, as well as networks in Australia and New Zealand. “Tragedy Plus Time” made Byrne THE hit of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August, according to pretty much every reviewer who saw it. That includes Rolling Stone and the London Times.
If you’ve ever been estranged from a family member — who hasn’t? — this show will touch you deeply and might make you rethink your position toward that person. This past summer I experienced a loss similar to what provoked Byrne to write this brilliant exploration of death and grief as fodder for laughs. I felt so much lighter as I walked home after. Nothing like laughter to help obviate lingering grief.
Nobody does death like the Irish, as you know, if you’ve ever attended a real Irish wake. Nobody does comedy like Ed Byrne. He quips and sips beer throughout the show. He translates terms from across the pond into American vernacular throughout the evening, to excellent effect.
Byrne is at Soho Playhouse until Nov. 12. It’s great craic.
DiLauro, a playwright and poet, is a roving culture correspondent for The Village Sun. He performs a poem every day, Monday through Friday, online at youtube.com/UkeJackson.