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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Any Other Name

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(holding the pages) I take these to the publisher tomorrow and then Edward no more. Perhaps we should have a burial. Put my name in a coffin or something. — Edward
Donít be morbid — Ė Margaret
Iím serious. We must forget him. Edward and all he knew were in Leeds. We are in London now, dear. People come here to remake themselves every day. Iím merely taking it a step further. — Edward
Any Other Name
Audra Taliercio and Fletcher McTaggart
There hasnít been a melodrama in quite a spell as amusingly macabre or as preposterously affable as Any Other Name. Although it is set in the 1840s England, this new play by George Brant (now having its world premiere) earnestly celebrates a genre that has not only gone out of style long ago, but also has gone wanting for someone to pick up the gauntlet. Brant is acknowledging a quaint and archaic form of dramatic literature that could stand a little revitalizing. Whether or not he has successfully mastered all the traditional elements is arguable, but the audience on opening night tittered, gasped and laughed just enough to reveal a modest sense of pleasure.

† According to a program insert Brant was inspired to write this play after reading an article about John Clare (1793 1864), a poet who enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1820s, but was committed to an asylum by his wife. If Any Other Name has a plot that grows more absurd with every convolution, I confess to at least being semi-stunned into submission.

† Edward Ballard (Fletcher McTaggart), a half-hearted critic by profession and half-baked poet by vocation, has idolized "poet of the natural world" John Clark, whose first published collection of poems has served as an inspiration to him. A relentless search for him brings Ballard to an asylum for the insane where he finds the completely nutty Clark (Paul Molnar) living in filth, deprivation and in denial as to his true identity. Although he admits that the poet Clark has been a visitor, he insists that he is William Shakespeare. Clark is clearly stark raving mad, but he also rants with apt quotes from the Bardís canon. Ballard ingeniously worms out of him where Clark has hidden his last poems.

† Envious of Clark and frustrated by his own lack of talent, Ballard decides to assume the identity of Clark who had not maintained a public image (and like the real life John Clare) was also committed to the asylum years ago by his (now deceased) wife. The plot thickens or rather begins to curdle when Ballard brings the collection to Clarkís former publishing house newly under the management of Andrew Maddock (Carl Wallnau), a cunning publisher who never met the real Clark and who may or may not be taken in by Ballard.

† Ballardís plan is muddied when Maddock insists that the collection will only sell to the public if they come from the mind of a mad poet ("people have a need for depravity") who has been locked away. The play hinges on absurdities that border on inanities as Ballard manages through bribery to get the lunatic Clark out of his cell and bring him to his home to write poems that resonate with madness. Far be it from me to divulge how far the conspirators have to go to insure the publisher gets his poems, and to what lengths Ballardís American wife Margaret (Audra Taliercio) will go in order to inspire Clark to write them.

† Surprisingly, a daffy denouement that egregiously defies credibility comes at a point where almost everything you were already surmising is actually happening. Despite the opportunity for over-the-top melodramatics, each of the performers, under the carefully calibrated direction of John Wooten, conveys their own peculiarly particularized characters. Molnar is terrific as the poet Clark who moves like a frenzied caged animal, but who is eventually tamed by a most ludicrous request. McTaggart is convincing as the desperate and foolish Ballard who cannot help but be caught in his own web. Taliercio has some effective scenes as the wife who proves as cunning in her way as does Wallnau, the cleverly manipulative publisher.

† Comfortable seating is on three sides in the Zella Fry Theatre in the Vaughn Eames Building at Keane University. The playís three evocative settings — the asylum cell, a living room and an office — are designed by Joseph Gourley and dress the stage at the same time. All other technical credits are first-rate. Notwithstanding the inevitability of its hardly-a-surprise ending, Any Other Name (the winner of the 2009 Premiere Stages Play Festival), will do just as well as any other. As this was my first visit, the professionalism attached to this Premiere Stages production will prompt a return visit in the future.

Any Other Name
† By George Brant
† Directed by John Wooten Cast: Fletcher McTaggart (Edward Ballard), Paul Molnar (John Clark), Audra Taliercio (Margaret Ballard), Carl Wallnau (Andrew Maddock) Scenic Design: Joseph Gourley
† Lighting Design: Nadine Charlsen
† Costume Design: Karen Hart
† Sound Design: Ian Alfano
† Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes including intermission
† Premiere Stages, Kean University, 1000 Morris Ave., Union, NJ.
† (908) 737 Ė 7469
† $25 standard, $20 senior; $15 student
† Performances: Thursday through Saturdays at 8 PM; Sundays at 3 PM
† Opened 09/04/09
† Ends 09/20/09
† Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 09/04/09

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