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A CurtainUp Review
Howard Katz

In this business, if someone says to you that they will 'think about it', their answer will be 'No'. That which requires our thought is undesirable. 'The world is a turd and we are but flies'. You see, in this office we're not doing Shakespeare, none of us are winning prizes, we're not feeding the starving, love. We're stuck in the arsehole end of the business trying to breathe some clean air.You wanna do this hideous job?
— Howard Katz, enlightening his new assistant about her new day to day world.

Unlike Patrick Marber's second play, Closer, a slickly engineered and choreographed sexual pas de quatre which gained a wide audience as a film, Howard Katz revolves around a single character—a class B talent agent who carries a yarmulke in his pocket but seems to have misplaced any shred of Jewish menschlichkeit somewhere between his bar mitzvah and middle age. That's not to say this is a solo play, for to follow Howard Katz's freefall from fairly high up on the career ladder and a family life that includes an attractive and adoring wife and adorable son calls for scenes showing how he destroyed his business and family relationships and landed on a London park bench—newly homeless and suicidal.

As Howard ponders what has brought him to this sorry state, the people in his life materialize. This production is doubly fortunate — first, to have Alfred Molina give a performance outstanding enough to almost make you like the not very likeable Katz; and also for its topnotch ensemble up to multi-tasking as the characters from Katz's personal and professional life as well as the nightmare scenarios in his head. No complaints either about the production, especially Scott Pask's brick wall backed scenic design which, besides accommodating various locations, has a fortress-like aura that seems to symbolize the wall Howard Katz has built around that part of himself able to connect meaningfully with his family and people he works with —the wall that has sealed him off from the soul that is at the center of his increasingly catastrophic midlife descent into darkness.

Alfred Molina as Howard Katz
Alfred Molina as Howard Katz (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Molina had the benefit of a fully fleshed out character in Tevye, his last turn as an on-stage Jew. However, even his fully committed performance as a typically self-destructive Marber character is hobbled by a script that fails to bring to light the needed details to help us understand and sympathize with a man so abrasive and alienated that his losses (clients jumping ship, the wife who will no longer tolerate his disdain for her happiness, his father's death) lead less to a midlife crisis than a psychotic breakdown. The ensemble is even more hampered by insufficiently developed roles.

All of this is not to say, that Marber has lost his touch with acerbic and often funny dialogue. This is especially evident when Katz flashes back to his days as the Mamet-like foul-mouthed and insulting talent agent who greets a valued client (a terrific Euan Morton), with a sarcastic "What is this? Armani? Versace? Or did an angel weave it in heaven?" and, after desperately trying to talk Ricky out of leaving, sends him off with a devastating putdown speech. (" I say this in anger, not bitterness — there's a distinction, it's a useful one: You Have No Talent. You've been very lucky you've had a brilliant agent . . .You are a bubble and you will burst. Please know that I'm not sad to lose you. I was merely 'effecting sadness', as a courtesy. Hey, scram, Goldenballs!") There's even a monologue when his bosses fire him (euphemistically suggesting that he take a break) that's a tad reminiscent of the show stopping speech by the rumpled Yvan played by Molina in the Broadway production of Yasmina Rez's Art.

While there are occasional sparks of genuine emotion in some of the scenes with his parents (Alvin Epstein and Elizabeth Franz), brother (Max Baker), wife (Jessica Hecht) and son (Patrick Henney), this everyman's painful quest for a worth greater than that of his life so far, is too dismal and full of holes to make us care very much about this Howard's end.

After Miss Julie—-based on Strindberg (London)
Don Juan in SoHo/ Patrick Marber after Moliere (London)
Playwright: Patrick Marber
Director: Doug Hughes
Cast: Max Baker (Bern), Alvin Epstein (Jo), Elizabeth Franz (Ellie), Edward Hajj (Norm), Jessica Hecht (Jess), Patrick Henney (Ollie), Alfred Molina (Howard Katz), Euan Morton (Robin) and Charlotte Parry (Nat).
Sets: Scott Pask
Costumes: Catherine Zuber
Lights: Christopher Akerlind
Sound and Original Music: David Van Tieghem
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, without intermission
Roundabout/ Laura Pels Theatre,111 West 46th Street, (212) 719-1300
From 3/01/07 to 5/06/07; opening 3/08/07
Tue to Sat at 7:30pm; Wed, Sat, Sun at 2pm
Tickets: $63.75 - $73.75
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer February 2nd
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