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A CurtainUp Review
Alphabetical Order

Geoffrey (to Lesley) This must all seem very strange to you, coming in from the outside. But we've got our own little ways of doing things here. — Geoffrey
Lucy It's a mess, in other words. — Lucy, who's hired Lesley to organize things and tells her she's counting on her to perform miracles-- not quite realizing just how much of a miracle worker Lesley is.
Alphabetical Order
L to R - Audrey Lynn Weston, Margaret Daly, Paul Molnar Brad Bellamy, (Photo: Suzi Sadler)
Michael Frayn's Alphabetical Order should be funny from A through Z! Its 1974 provincial newsroom setting, was a natural for Frayn who, prior to becoming a literary triple threat ( master farceur, novelist and translator) was journalist for The Guardian and The Observer. While both these newspapers have survived the internet's assault on the print media, small papers like the one being skewered here are rapidly claiming a large space in the heavenly archives for dead papers.

Any surviving newspapers, no matter how small, certainly wouldn't have the once common cutting rooms that served as the paper's library and were organized by principles of filing that would make Dewey tremble in his grave. in the case of Frayn's fictional library, articles are filed according to the improvisational whim of Lucy (Angela Reed), the library manager. To add to the aura of chaos, clothing and other objects are tossed hither and yon as casually as the information is stashed away in once de rigueur metal file cabinets. As for the personal lives of Lucy and the other employees who frequent what passes for a useful library, they're as messy as everything else.

Everybody seems content to wallow in this dismal sea of confusion. Until a new young assistant named Leslie (Audrey Lynn Watson) arrives. It doesn't take long to realize that she is as neat as Lucy and her associates are not. She doesn't say much but her face is a somewhat open book as she silently takes in the cabinets with drawers that won't close because they're bulging with haphazardly filed clipping folders as well as her new coworkers' confused compatibility.

Watching Leslie trying to settle in makes it quite obvious (so don't call me a spoiler!) that this fairly short play has an intermission to have the cutting room metamorphose into apple pie neatness because mousy little Leslie is really a mighty mouse when it comes to making order out of chaos. Nor does it take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that Leslie's neatnick compulsion will exert its ripple effect on Lucy and and the various other company.

The fun of Frayn's comedy is not that it will surprise you but to watch how it plays out. Lesley 's compulsion for order doesn't stop with uncluttering the filing system so that finding a quotation or other reference becomes as easy as a Google search (well, almost). The paper's other worker bees with their messy habits and lives are irresistible targets so once the first act's visual joke, the excessively untidy library, is taken care of, it's up the actors to let us see how Leslie's organizing skills impacts their relationships — not to mention the future of the newsaper which isn't in very good shape either.

And there's the rub about this production. Audrey Lynn Watson changes appropriately from prim and polite to cooly controlling, but while she's an amusingly wide-eyed mix of shyness and eagerness to start her assistant librarianship, Watson fall short of the A to Z range this role needs. Instead, she stays stuck at B —- at the most C.

Angela Reed is charming as Lesley's ditzy opposite and boss. William Connell is properly rumpled as John the womanizing newspaperman who 's been involved with Lucy. He likes to make things easy for himself as typified by his request to Leslie for a clip he can easily fit into a feature: "I just want to know who said it. Also, when he said it, where he said it, what it was he said, and whether he said it all or whether I've merely imagined it. I'm writing a leader on, obviously enough, education, if it helps to know that, which I should think it almost certainly doesn't." Being as ever appreciative of a shapely leg as he is for a good quote, he follows his request with "I love the little hollows in the back of your knees".

Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of Reed, Connell and the rest of the cast, their goofy discombobulations somehow tend to come off as too forced and actorly. Thus, instead of the A to Z laughs one expects from a Frayn farce, the chuckles here only come in spurts. This is either a case of this being one of Mr. Frayn's early and minor efforts or an American ensemble, even with solid British accents, not able to make this comedy resonate strongly enough. Probably both.

The play does include a clever last scene to bring the comic doings full circle and with a nifty twist. Given yjr Google world we live in, however, this is mostly a nostalgic tidbit about a by-gone era. It's too bad that it just doesn't come off as the quiet, witty and charming piece Mr. Forsman intended it to be.

Alphabeticall Order by Michael Frayn.
Directed by Carl Forsman
Cast: Brad Bellamy (Arnold), William Connell (John), John Windsor Cunningham (Geoffrey), Margaret Daly (Nora), Paul Molnar (Wally), Angela Reed (Lesley), and Audrey Lynn Weston (Lucy).
Lights: Josh Bradford
Sound: Jill Du Boff
Sets: Nathan Heverin
Costumes: Jennifer Paar
Stage Manager: Justin Scribner
The Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre 410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues 212/239-6200
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, including one intermission
From 9/14/10; opening 9/26/10; closing 10/26/10
Tuesdays at 7pm; Wednesday through Friday at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm; and Sunday matinees at 3pm. Tickets: $57.50 , both plays for $68.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 9/23/10 press preview
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