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A CurtainUp Review
Hurrah At Last

Money makes the world go around, the world go around -- the MC introducing one of the hit numbers in Cabaret.

Money doesn't buy happiness -- Oliver, in a remark tinged with schadenfreude since it's addressed to his highbrow friend Laurie who is unhappily coasting "from tiny windfall to tiny windfall" and not surprisingly retorts: But it can upgrade despair so beautifully!
Money certainly has the world of Richard Greenberg's anti-hero Laurie (Peter Frechette) spin out of control. He is tortured with obsessively yearning for it, wondering who has how much, envying and disdaining those who have it. This money mania clearly contributes as much to the sweaty discomfort that envelops him as the cold that at one point has him sneezing on a baby plunked into his lap.

"How much money do you have?" he prods his sister Thea (Ileen Getz). From the looks of her tastefully furnished (by Neil Patel) Manhattan loft with a view and a kitchen anyone who likes to cook would kill for, she's got more than enough. In fact, everyone who comes to the Christmas party that sets off the comedic fireworks, money -- or rather the lack of it -- is a problem only for Laurie. His father's has been successful enough as a contractor to keep asking Laurie whether he needs money. The friend and object of Laurie's desire, Oliver (Paul Michael Valley), has managed to translate minimal talent into major commercial success. And, as if his richly undeserved wealth and renown weren't enough, he has been asked to adapt one of Laurie's typically obscure novels for the movies and has proved himself a fertile heterosexual.

Of the seven characters only the vacuous Oliver, contrary to his cliched denial to the contrary, has found money the open sesame to the golden Medina of happiness. The most expensive infertility treatments have not yet brought Thea and her rich-as-Croesus husband Eamon (Kevin O'Rourke) the baby they desperately want. Money has not made mom's (Dori Brenner) and dad's (Larry Keith) marriage anything other than "a prison" (the only thing worse being "the abyss" of having children.

If you count the strictly-for-laughs walk on, a skyscraper sized two-hundred pound English Mastiff named Thunder (played with paw footed assurance by a canine ham named Dreyfus), there are actually eight characters. It doesn't require psychoanalytical training to make the connection between the fact that the objects d'art Thunder smashes and chews up can be duplicated with money while the easy fertility of his owners can not. Just as it will take more than one baby after another to make a marriage out of a relationship without verbal communication.

If all this sounds rather familiar and superficially overstuffed, it is. But Mr. Greenberg is a playwright with a gift for translating anger, angst and hostility into fast-paced, laugh aloud dialogue. Laurie's tortured rage, which makes him "literally ill from endorsing people's vision of themselves," may leave us disappointed in Greenberg's failure to deliver a play on the more substantial order of Three Days of Rain (a Pulitzer Prize contender), but getting to that disappointing finale is nonetheless a lot of fun, especially with David Warren's snappy direction and the top caliber cast and design team.

Peter Frechette wrings every ounce of humor out of Laurie's angst, anger and malaise propelled despair. Epigrams like his description of his parent's marriage as "a Saturday morning cartoon written by August Strindberg" are delivered with flawless timing. He maintains the high voltage, near-apoplectic despair of the insistent truth teller even during the flat-footed second act and its stab at giving him happy ending epiphany. Much of the second act plays out in a hospital where Laurie is ill with an undiagnosed non-terminal disease (not AIDS though Mom Reva should not be surprised at this possibility having named her son for a character from a favorite girl's novel). The best parts o -- like the scene when Larry Keith's dad becomes a real person reliving his marriage -- are weighed down by such failed farcical touches as Judith Blazer metamorphosing from Oliver's non-English speaking wife to a singing nurse.

While audiences may see touches of Neill Simon's comedies and Woody Allen's films in Hurrah At Last, Greenberg 's humor is more epigrammatic, especially when measured against Simon's non-stop, Sid Caesar nurtured brand of humor. I was more reminded of the satirical touch of pre-yuppie novelists like Saul Bellow in Herzog and Wallace Markfield in To an Early Grave. A more recent novel, The Information by Martin Amis (also about an unsuccessful writer maniacally jealous of successful "friend") is also worth mentioning. Unlike Greenberg's exercise in speed writing (an admission made during an interview in Los Angeles when Hurrah At Last had its premiere), the Amis novel is more sharply focused. Greenberg is young and talented enough to bring the strengths of all these influences as well as his own best work (the comic Eastern Standard and the more serious Three Days of Rain to the stage.
By Richard Greenberg
Directed by David Warren
Starring Peter Frechette; with Judith Blazer, Dori Brenner, Ileen Getz, Larry Keith, Kevin O'Rourke, Paul Michael Valley
Set design: Neil Patel
Costume design: Candice Donnelly
Lighting design: Peter Maradudin
Sound design: John Gromada
Presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at the Gramercy Theatre, 127 E. 23rd St. (212/719-1300 )
5/13/99-/8/29/99;opening 6/03/99.
Reviewed byElyse Sommer based on 6/09 performance

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