David Hirson's post-postmodern comedy hinges on Henry Dennett (Ron Rifkin), a poet who believes lack of a readership proves his brilliance; poetry is the only true art, while theater is pornography, affirming rather than challenging the middle classes' views of themselves. The position is indefensible, yet Dennett trumpets it for an entire act before being brought down: Dennett's ex-wife's new playwright husband (Larry Pine) dares him to write a script and get it produced within six months. Dennett wins the bet, but loses his soul (or realizes he never had one, or whatever). For all his condescending superiority, he doesn't really know who he is, you see. Most of the play's roles are underdeveloped and the cast can't do anything with them, but Daniel Jenkins as a young playwright has an endearingly awkward posture, and delivers Hirson's banal treatises with a straight face. The only real humor comes from Daniel Davis (Niles the Butler on TV's The Nanny) as a playwright festival director, an overdramatic old fraud with red hair and gray roots. Davis nails every punch line, prancing and mincing about, referring to Lawrence Olivier as "Kiki" in feigned intimacy. Despite his phoniness, he's the only real human being. The rest of Hirson's writing is coldly intellectual without actually being intelligent. Symbols recur like clockwork (the moon, corn, a parasitic worm, mirrors, old men playing Romeo), their obviousness providing good fodder for high school English papers. "Pornography" isn't the right word for this self-absorbed, self-referential play -- "masturbation" suits it far better. Directed by Richard Jones.
The Grass Harp
A musical version of Truman Capote's novella is a lovely idea -- Capote himself adapted his rustic comedy (with its own forest of Arden) into a play. But for their 1971 musical, writer Kenwood Elmslie and composer Claibe Richardson ignored Capote's script, played fast and loose with the plot and characters, ladled on the razzmatazz and sap, and transformed the sweetly compassionate story into a freakish, sentimental oddity. Elmslie and Richardson appear to be more eccentric than any of Capote's characters, their wrongheaded songs destroying Capote's gentle atmosphere. (The titles -- "Dropsy Cure Weather," "Floozies," "Think Big Rich" -- indicate how off-track they are.) Still, no 42nd Street Moon production is without its treats; here the chief among them is Meg Mackay as the itinerant lady preacher Babylove, who has a weakness for men with eyes of a certain color. When she sings about her children's fathers, she gives the words "and his eyes were blue" a belt of, well, bluesy ecstasy that makes her whole body vibrate. Amy Cole perfectly fills the small role of Maude with girlish emotion. The four leads, though, achieve varying levels of success. Jesse Caldwell as Judge Cool doesn't personalize the role much, and Joel Patterson's sweet, mushy demeanor never illuminates the character of Collin. Baomi Butts-Bhanji as Catherine takes awhile to find the right disdainful, defensive tone. Susan Watson as Dolly is inconsistent, but when she connects with her co-stars (thanks in part to director Greg MacKellan), you can glimpse what Capote intended.