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A CurtainUp Review

Closet Chronicles
By Brad Bradley

Closet Chronicles, a giddy play on its surface, plays much like a formulaic television sitcom; yet at moments it is a penetrating satire, in this case on the subject of sexuality as viewed within the traditional nuclear family. Ed, a veteran firefighter, and Nancy, his terminally-optimistic wife, are a happy and very conventional white-bread mid-western American couple, with the requisite two children, here called George and Agatha. George, a responsible college graduate, is at the center of our story, or more precisely, his gay identity is. That matter is revealed at the family dinner table in the play’s opening minutes.

George’s story is controlled by his much younger sister, Agatha, who tells the tale in a manner recalling the Stage Manager of Wilder’s Our Town. She even stops and restarts the action at times as if she were a film director. Agatha’s narrative stance comes close to the posture of a stand-up comic, wryly commenting on the action even more than she participates in it. This neo-Brechtian , perhaps even Pirandellian style, is mostly refreshing and winningly comic, although the play does run out of steam in its second act, which loses most of the cohesion and tone of Act I.

While the parental couple is primarily reactive and superficially supporting to their son’s alarming announcement, they cannot escape the Ozzie and Harriet platitudes purportedly typical of parents a half century ago, even though the play would seem to be taking place in our own times. If author Eric R. Pfeffinger were to explore the apparent time warp in his drama, the results might enhance his script.

Director Ben Hodges has found a splendid cast, particularly in two of the family members. George, played with sublime nonchalance by Brandon Malone, looks remarkably like a youthful version of Chevy Chase, yet delivers an amiable performance that is closer to a centered version of an equally youthful Michael J. Fox. His WASP mother, in unlikely yet effective casting, is the predictably riotous Marilyn Sokol, whose eyes and mouth never miss an opportunity to imbue a perfectly ordinary line or even word in the script with delicious irony. Sokol, in a supporting role here, comes close to stealing the show, yet her performance never fails to serve the script. These two essential performances are well balanced by Richard Leighton as an often befuddled dad and Emilie Madison as the sister Agatha who doubles as wry narrator.

Agatha, we are told, is a high school freshman, yet the actress, a woman rather than a child, comes across more as her brother’s chronological equal than as the sibling nearly a decade his junior as noted in the script. While the play might not suffer if this key character were rewritten as the 19-year-old, the work certainly would benefit if the character instead were played as a genuine adolescent or even pre-adolescent, with the added factor of innocence a likely asset to both her narrative and dramatic roles.

David Esler’s set design is amazing, convincingly conveying several rooms of a suburban home as well as other spaces on what may be the smallest stage in New York. Director Ben Hodges is to be commended for his fluid staging, although he missed a great opportunity in not using music to bridge the numerous scene changes.

Writer Pfeffinger serves his family characters quite well, but offers much less in two outsiders who interrupt the giddy style that happily infects the family scenes. The script especially suffers when a boyfriend character is forced into the story.

By Eric R. Pfeffinger
Direction by Ben Hodges
Cast: Brandon Malone, Emilie Madison, Richard Leighton, Marilyn Sokol, Jason Cicci, and Ben Hersey.
Set Design: David Esler
Lighting Design: Juliet Chia
Costume Coordinator: Liz Beckham
Sound Design: Dennis Michael Keefe
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes including intermission.
Ground Floor Theatre, 312 West 11th Street
Performances from October 10 until November 2, 2003. Opened October 13.
Reviewed by Brad Bradley at October 12 evening press preview.

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