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A CurtainUp Review
Give Me Your Answer, DO!

In baseball it's three strikes and you're out. Give Me Your Answer, DO! is up at bat for the fourth time (It struck out with most critics in Dublin and met with mixed response in Belfast and London). The Roundabout has gone all out to give Ireland's most distinguished elder statesman of drama a worthy production. The nine actors in this cross between Uncle Vanya (a play Friel splendidly re-interpreted some time ago) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff are a treat to watch.

Kate Burton is in top form as the gin tippling, melancholy Daisy Connolly, wife of a distinguished novelist whose monumental writer's block, combined with the bills for their institutionalized autistic daughter, have severely strained their marriage as well as their standard of living. This is the fourteenth house they've lived in during their economic downward spiral. John Glover is touching as Tom the unhappy writer, husband and desperately devoted father determined provide some kernel of human connection for his grown but never-to-mature child. Also worthy of a few hyperbolic adjectives: — Lois Smith, as Daisy's mother is a master of understatement. She can be eloquent with just a flickering change of expression or through the strain apparent in getting her athritic body to take her from one end of the room to another. Joel Grey has some wonderful moments as her dapper and ever upbeat husband, though in the final analysis, his character seems a bit too much like a Ballybeg adaptation of Chicago's Mr. Cellophane.

— Helen Carey plays the acid-tongued, bitchy Graine Fitzmaurice who disdains her husband Garret's success as a writer of popular novels almost as much as he himself does. Garrett and Tom are both friends and rivals and the wives' main link seems to be their dissatisfaction with the men for whom they've given up their own chance to have careers of their own.

— Michael Emerson as David Knight, the "outsider" to the Chekohovian assembly of kith and kin does a fine job capturing the emotional cracks in the self-confident veneer of an agent for a Texas university with deep pockets. He has already bought Fitzmaurice's manuscripts for a Texas archive and now has it within his power to relieve the Connollys' financial problems by buying Tom's manuscripts. Those manuscripts are the play's plot trigger and the crux of the question posed in the play's title. Will Tom compromise his integrity and let Knight have the unpublished pornographic novels he wrote after the autistic Bridget was institutionalized? The question of integrity is not an unreasonable concern for the seventy-year-old Friel. Neither are the spinoff questions about the effects of a dedication to writing on the writer's family. Unfortunately, not only is there never a real coming to grips with the key issue, but for any of the other subtexts. In between Tom's first and final visit to the tragically mute Bridget, (a difficult role beautifully played by newcomer Woodwyn Koons), we discover that Tom and Daisy's troubles are more than matched by those assembled in the sunny garden Thomas Lynch has designed in sharp contrast to the dark, shabby interior of their home (and, metaphorically, all of their troubled souls). But the whys seem to echo the play's title plea. Exactly why, for example did Tom write those porno books and how did they relieve his pain? Give us an answer, indeed!

Director Kyle Donnelly does her best to maneuver everyone through revelations that besides the obvious attempt to establish kinship with Chekhov's unhappy gatherings in isolated country houses also bring to mind Eric Berne's erstwhile pop psychology best seller Games People Play. Thanks to the general excellence of the performances, and the good work of the production's designers, Give Me Your Answer, DO is, depite its depressing and disjointed content, easy to watch. You get caught up in Daisy's boozy unhappiness as she plays strains of Schumann and Mendelsohn, the Fitzmaurice's nasty bickering. You cringe at Joel Grey's teary humiliation when he's caught stealing a wallet and marvel at the amazingly quick recovery of his equilibrium and choke back a tear during Glover's final visit to his daughter.

And so, by golly, you walk out of the theater almost convinced that you've seen a play by one of the theater's best practitioners. But as you hop the Lexington Avenue line, a bus or a taxi you're likely to have the same experience I did: In the time it took the #6 train to take me to 51st Street, I realized what I'd seen was good only in its parts -- the acting, a few good lines like "you writers are unhappy in the world you inhabit and more unhappy in the world you create" (Daisy) -- but in the end, lacking in content of any substance .

Besides being the fourth time at bat for this play, it's also the fourth Friel play CurtainUp has reviewed this year. The other three were part of Lincoln Center's Summer Festival of Friel plays and remain on archive with a most insightful introduction by Les Gutman: Lincoln Center Summer Festival of Brian Friel Plays

By Brian Friel
Directed by Kyle Donnelly
With (in alphabetical order): Kate Burton, Helen Carey, Michael Emerson, John Glover,Gawn Grainger, Joel Grey, Woodwyn Koons, Nancy Robinette, Lois Smith.
Set Design: Thomas Lynch
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz Running time: 2 hours with one intermission
Roundabout Theatre Co. at the Gramercy Theater, 138 E. 27th St., (Lexington /3rd Avs), 719-1300 e. Through Jan. 2.
Performances from 9/10/99-1/02/2000 ; opening 10/05/99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/06/99 performance
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