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A CurtainUp Review

The Eros Trilogy

The Eros Trilogy is really one epistolary play linked by a very thin thread to two monologues. All deal in one way or another with mother and son intimacy (or lack of it) and the choices of each between sexual and emotional connections.

Given the public's current endorsement of ever shorter, intermissionless plays, (Harold Pinter's 45-minute Ashes to Ashes qualifying of what magazine fiction editors used to tag as "short-shorts"), the 70-minute long third part of Nicky Silver's Trilogy could probably sustain itself without the two curtain raisers the playwright salvaged from a discarded play. The trouble with that scenario is that we then wouldn't have Betty Buckley to bring her diva's glamour to the opening solo piece. In the epistolary finale the auburn hair and elegant rust robe are replaced by a rather unflattering Plain Jane blonde wig. Glamorous or not, Ms. Buckley brings enough pizazz and comedic talent to these rare non-singing roles to make both Part I and Part III worth seeing.

The monologue and show opener is an amusing pastiche that showcases its star but not its author. Neil Patel's apricot and blue boudoir, furnished with a pillow-strewn bed and dressing table, sets the scene for Claire's ruminations on her life and the the state of a world in which an eight-block walk to her dressmaker brings her in contact with thirty-five people who spit. Spitting besides providing the piece with a running joke is also a metaphor for a world in which people can do and feel as they please. It's a world Claire disdains but also enviesince unlike the world of her youth it allows women to demand that their sexual partners hit all the right pleasure buttons. By the time the spitting metaphor is brought full circle it turns out that Claire managed to catch a ride on the sexual fulfillment train after all. (No mention is ever made whether this also brings a rapprochement with her daughter, but then this is just a patch woven into this "new" play). We also get lots of smart Silverspeak to lend a humorous touch to the narrator's emotional orphanhood at age eight. That's when her mother lost a baby and turned "from laconic to inert." This inertia was so extre that it fell on Clare and her father to dress her and take her on an enforced walk "looking like Oscar Levant, Fred Astaire and a drug-ridden Nanette Fabray").

The evening's closing duet is the only one of the three offerings that can lay claim to being a play. Not exactly ground breaking in what it has to say, its satisfactions derive from. delightful acting by both Ms. Buckley and and her epistolary partner, T. Scott Cunningham. As an alcoholic mom (don't worry, she reforms and finds love instead!) she is sympathetic despite frequenly inappropriate advice and personal confidences Cunningham's Roger is convincing and likeable throughout. He's particularly good as a chubby camper discovering his love for all things theater and his unrecognized homosexual stirrings and during an epistolary outburst of pique at mom. The letters have the heft of a play because they're never just read aloud but accompanied by a varied range of gestures and expressions, both by the letter writer and the recipient. As in A.R. Gurney Love Letters to which it will undoubtedly be compared, this is a sentimental valentine to love and friendship between mothers and sons. .

The evening's major disappointment is the second monologue which stars Zak Orth as a man who may or not be Claire's son (the first mother). The material is sporadically funny. Philip's rant on the ugliness of all sex organs got a big laugh (after excoriating the male genitalia he asks "Is the vagina such an oil painting? -- with apologies to Georgia O'Keefe!"). But the sum of such parts never quite adds up to more than a stand-up routine with a touch of twilight-zone at the end. Cunningham's character charms us sufficiently to make us overlook its familiarity from previous tellings on stage, screen and television. Orth's Philip unfortunately brings to mind Les Gutman's comments on his role in Misalliance (also directed by David Warren -- see link). To paraphrase from that review, Orth has his funny moments, but the total effect is finally lost in the cacophonous voice he employs.

If all I've said has led you to the deduction that The Eros Trilogy might be more satisfying as The Eros Duet, right you are, my dear Watson. And if you sense that Silver isn't mining pure gold, right again.

A Maiden's Prayer by Silver
Triumph of Love with Ms. Buckley
Misalliance directed by David Warren and with Zak Orth

By Nicky Silver
Directed by David Warren
With Betty Buckley, T. Scott Cunningham, Zak Orth
Set design: Neil Patel
Costume design: David C. Woolard
Lighting design: Jeff Croiter
Sound design: Donald DiNicola
Vineyard Theatre,108 E. 15th St. (212/ 353-3874) 2/04/99-2/27/99; opens 2/08/99
Seen 2/03/99 and reviewed 2/08 by Elyse Sommer

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