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LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
Brutality of Fact
I was going to write this review last night but opted to look in on an interview taped with Charley Rose with Neil Simon on the eve of the opening of his own new play Proposals. The master of smart, wise-cracking comedies decried, as he has before, the second banana role plays have assumed in the musical driven New York theater. I wish he'd take a night off to see Keith Reddin's Brutality of Fact which is being given a limited run at Primary Stages. Reddin the author of Life and Limb and Rum and Coke, has some of Simon's fast-paced way with one-liners and a keen ear for today's vernacular.
Clearly, Reddin is no Simon clone but a distinct and fresh new voice. His Brutality of Fact was seeded by a headline event, the catastrophe of Waco. The family he invented to try to make sense out of the cause and effect of religious extremism consists of flesh and blood people. All live in disconnected loneliness and are unable to cope with the losing cards life has dealt them. And so, Jackie (Rebecca Nelson) has become a fanatical Jehovah's Witness, her older rebel sister Maggie (Leslie Lyles has distanced herself completely from the family but not the bottle and their mother Val (Scotty Bloch), has resorted to often outrageous behavior.
The humor Reddin wrests from the more ditzy aspects of these dysfunctional women's troubled lives is distinctly darker and less sentimental than Simon's. Yet, even as we laugh at their often over-the-top behavior we also pity them and wish them well.
Interlaced as it is with a certain amount of unreality, with each the main character starring in a dream sequence, Reddin's comedy also calls for hyper-kinetic staging to move things along. This need has been stunningly realized by director Casey Childs and his production team which deserves top billing with the highly praiseworthy cast members.
B.T. Whitehill works wonders with a series of panels and a few props (by Sally Plass) and David Van Tieghem's edgy sound design effectively propels us from scene to scene. One panel is used as a screen on which to project various objects and the titles of the numerous lightening fast scenes. Other panels metamorphose into an airline counter, another into a bar. It is behind this airline counter and the bar that Leslie Lyles has some of her outrageously best moments--a combination of pratfalls and distress at being in a job she hates but hates losing. In the bar she is drawn to and repelled by an alcoholic Lesbian ( Robin Morse) and most amusingly, weeps to the juke box accompaniment of "Please Mister Please" after the ex-brother-in-law who propositioned her (Ken Marks) has walked out (temporarily!).
These are just some of the highlights. Rebecca Nelson's Jackie and Scotty Bloch's Val have many strong moments, especially in the dream sequences and the opening and closing scenes which serve as the play's bookends. The first scene has the two sisters lunching and bringing each other, and us, up to date on the breakdown in their relationship which includes not even notifying Maggie about the death of another sister. (This dead sister appears in several of the dream scenes and is one of three characters played by Samantha Brown).
The final scene brings the three women back to the same table. All remain trapped in their isolation and fear of dealing with the brutal losses of money, death and self-esteem that have motivated their actions. But there's a glimpse of a family tie holding them back from the abyss. It's not a happy ending but there is that smidgen of hope. A quote by the playwright in an interview distributed with my press kit best sums up his view of the end: "the miserable have no other medicine, but only Hope" (Shakespeare's Measure For Measure, Act 3, scene 1 line 2).
To sum up my own feelings about the play. While, typical of almost any contemporary comedy, one can make some comparisons to weekly television comedies, (especially for the character of the mother), Brutality of Fact should be seen by anyone interested in new work by lesser known playwrights. I don't think I'd bring a Jehovah's Witness and Mr. Reddin can be grateful that The Watchtower doesn't do theater reviews.