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A CurtainUp Review
After the Night and the Music
"Curtain Raiser". . ."Giving Up Smoking". . ."Swing Time"

If Heathcliffe were alive today he'd be on Zoloft. And some TV therapist would be telling him that if he really loved Cathy he'd find another woman right away because that would mean they'd had a positive relationship. -- Joanne in Giving Up Smoking
 Jere Burns & J. Smith-Cameron
Jere Burns & J. Smith-Cameron
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Whether you're old enough to have seen Elaine May and Mike Nichols in their heyday or are familiar with their work from recorded versions of their work, you'll understand their legendary reputation as masters of improvisational sketch comedy.

Though the justifiedly popular duo broke up years ago to pursue separate careers, they did collaborate again not too long ago on The Bird Cage, she as the writer and he as the director. Now, the source of that film, La Cage Aux Folles is enjoying a handsome revival, Nichols is the director of the season's mega-musical hit, Spamalot and Manhattan Theatre Club has given three new playlets by May a fine looking production.

The advance press releases describes After the Night And The Music as being about "life in the new millennium." This is an over-optimistic claim given that May seems stuck in the sixties and seventies. A few modern allusions (per the above quoted reference to Zoloft) can't give a now edge to ho-hum material. Once this skitcom's first and best offering (aptly named "Curtain Raiser "), the only edginess you're likely to experience is your own as you wait for the interminable "Giving Up Smoking" to end; an edginess that's exacerbated by your feeling o discomfort on the behalf of the actors trapped in "Swing Time" the even more dated farce about four friends whose plan to pep up their marriages with a night of partner switching.

Thanks to the delightful dance-driven opening piece, a thoroughly professional cast and John Lee Beatty's sophisticated, multi-faceted set design, this isn't as awful as May's Taller than a Dwarf or as tasteless as last season's Adult Entertainment which some critics liked a lot more than I did; but neither is it as good as her previous triptych, Power Plays, a genuinely funny collaborative effort with another Second City veteran, Alan Arkin. May does manage to pop some catchy quips into each of these pieces, but enjoyable as "Curtain Raiser" is, it's too slight to carry the evening. Even that excellent director, Daniel Sullivan, can't rescue this from overall mediocrity.

In one way or another all three skits not only seem more excavated from a by-gone era than a sharp take on the new millennium but echo other work. The dance hall setting of the first piece brings to mind the 1970s movie Roseland. Jeannie Berlin's Joanne, the chief monologist of "Giving Up Tobacco," is a kvetchy counterpart of the woman waiting for a phone call in Dorothy Parker's famous short story, "The Telephone" -- hardly the brilliantly timed telephone skit in which an increasingly frustrated Mike Nichols tries to recover his lost dime (it's funny even in this era of the cell phone). "Swing Time" has May trying to pump new life into Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.

Retro music permeates all three pieces, but once the delightful Eddie Korbich teaches J. Smith-Cameron's butch-Lesbian to allow herself to become a fleet-footed Ginger, there's not much to sing about here. While Ms. Smith-Cameron lends her reliable talent to the two other playlets, Korbich is mercifully allowed to remain backstage after his brief but bravura performance. On the other hand, if May had scrapped the less exhilarating follow-ups and written a fuller piece just for Korbich and Smith-Cameron, this might have made for a more satisfying two hours. LINKS
Other Plays by Elaine May reviewed here:
Power Plays
Adult Entertainment
Taller Than a Dwarf
For a retrospective of May's early wrok with Miche Nichols:
In Retrospect -- Mike Nichols &Elaine May
An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May

AFTER THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC, Three New Plays in Two Acts
Written by Elaine May
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
"Curtain Raiser": J. Smith-Cameron (Gloria), Eddie Korbich (Keith), Deirdre Madigan (Brittany), Jere Burns (Bartender), Brian Kerwin (Another Man) and Joanna Glushak (Another Woman).

"Giving Up Smoking": Jeannie Berlin (Joanne), Mr. Burns (Sherman), Mr. Kerwin (Mel) and Ms. Smith-Cameron (Kathleen).

"Swing Time": Ms. Smith-Cameron (Mitzi Grade), Mr. Burns (Darryl Grade), Ms. Berlin (Gail) and Mr. Kerwin (Ron). Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Michael Krass
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Original Music & Sound Design: John Gromada
Choreography:Randy Skinner
Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes.
Manhattan Theater Club at Biltmore Theatre, 261 West 47th Street) 212-239-6200
From 4/28/05 to 7/03/05; opening 6/01/05.
Tuesday, Thursday & Friday @8pm, Wednesday & Saturday @2pm & 8pm, Sunday @2pm Tickets:
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on June 2nd performance
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