The Manhattan Theatre Club misfires again with the new British import Losing Louie directed by veteran Jerry Zaks. The comedy is Simon Mendes da Costa’s second play and was nominated for an Evening Standard Award in London where it debuted last season. The playwright shows promise, but the Americanized production gracing the stage of the Biltmore is a one dimensional mess.
Originally set in Britain and called Losing Louis, the play has been transferred across the Atlantic to Pound Ridge, where it is now called Losing Louie, but why? The texture appears to have been stripped from the characters. There is a vast difference between Louis and Louie, just ponder the names for a moment. Louis is proper, refined, whereas Louie is common almost crude. Although I didn’t see the original production, I can envision the upper middle class English people of the story behaving badly in contrast to their proper demeanor, juggling the conflicts within their nature, and coming off as rather shockingly funny. Their apparent naughty behavior would be at amusing odds with their need to appear correct. There is nothing surprising about the same behavior in the middle class Jewish Americans from Pound Ridge. This is typically what you would expect if they descend a rung or two.
What was probably titillating in the British is now only vulgar in the Americans. The story shifts approximately 40 years back and forth in time with the all the action taking place in the upstairs bedroom of a suburban house, where nothing changes. The concept, which Costa seems to have borrowed from the British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, as presented here is very confusing. When a scene ends new characters enter the exact same room, and it takes some time to figure out that the time has shifted. After a while you tend to catch on, and the use of slamming doors when the actor’s exit, which feels like a jarring gimmick, does remind us that we a ready for yet another time jump. The tale revolves around the consequences of an extramarital affair between Louie (Scott Cohen) and the much younger Bella (Jama Williamson).
When the play begins in the early 1960’s we are confronted by the two in an intimate sexual embrace, where Louie is giving Bella immense pleasure by going down on her. We quickly learn they not married, that Louie’s wife Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff) is pregnant with their second child, and that Bella lives in the house with the family. Just as Louie expresses his deep love for Bella, we discover Louie’s six year old son Tony has been hiding under the bed, which becomes the set up for the unfolding story that jumps almost 50 years ahead to the widowed Louie’s funeral.
Louie’s two sons, Tony (Mark Linn-Baker) and Reggie (Matthew Arkin), along with their respective spouses, Sheila (Michele Pawk) and Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember), are suffering midlife crises. The brothers are still embroiled in their sibling rivalries related to their father, but all sorts of secrets will be revealed as the evening alternates between the funeral and the earlier period.
Jerry Zaks has contributed to the problems in the new adaptation by staging the evening like a farce with a rapid fire pacing that never allows for the truth. For farce to be successful there need to be real moments that periodically stop you in your tracks and all of the action must spring from this basic underlying truth in the text. The evening here is little more than an elaborate situation comedy peopled with ugly one dimensional characters and vulgar situations. There is no meat on the bones and as a result we are not involved, but bored by these people and their crude behavior.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
Losing Louie opened at the Biltmore Theatre, 261 West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue on October 12, 2006. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or at the box office. As Published in Dan's Papers…gordin & christiano