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A CurtainUp Review
Klonsky and Schwartz

My mother named me after a Pullman car. She thought it sounded Goyishe --- Delmore Schwartz

John FitzGibbon and David Volin in Klonsky and Schwartz
John FitzGibbon and David Volin in Klonsky and Schwartz
It isn’t surprising that Romulus Linney’s aggressively schizophrenic play about Delmore Schwartz opens in a 1966 mental ward at New York’s Bellevue Hospital. The noted American poet has been brought there for observation by the police after he has assaulted a couple on a Manhattan street. The obviously delusional Schwartz (John Fitzgibbon) is visited by his friend Milton Klonsky (David Volin), the skilled essayist to whom he has long been a mentor.

The play focuses on Schwartz’ declining sanity after he has left his job at Syracuse University to write poetry and live in New York City. Imagining that his wife was stolen by Nelson Rockefeller and believing he was told what to do by Dybbuks (plural), Schwartz is nevertheless urged by Klonsky to think rationally, to recall his childhood as the son of irrational unhappily married Romanian immigrants.

Schwartz’s mental instability is dramatized in fits and starts following his release from Bellevue as a kind of neurotic vaudeville act (shades of Smith and Dale on speed) as the two writers review the high and low points of their tight but testy relationship. The fast staccato paced dialogue is unleashed by the maniacally envious Klonsky and the maniacally depressive Schwartz in a lyrical point counter point style. Each man is afforded his own time in the spotlight, each confronted by his own demons. Their unlikely friendship began after Klonsky has submitted a poem in a contest judged by an expectedly condescending Schwartz. As egomaniacal as he was brilliant, Schwartz’s influence on the 10 years younger Klonsky proved profound, even as it served to block Klonsky’s creative flow ("You think any nutball idea that comes into your head is poetry and you can't tell the difference.")

The play moves speedily through brief scenes that focus more on the men's r emotional instability than on their intellectual gifts. Both marry and divorce, Schwartz twice. As they concede in concert: "Why should I make one Jewish girl miserable when I can make a hundred shicksas happy."

Although he doesn’t get the opportunity to rant and rave like his co-star, Volin is impressive as the more conventionally dysfunctional Klonsky, whose preoccupation with horse racing and womanizing may also have led to the artistic paralysis that consumed him during his friendship with Schwartz. When you have friends like Schwartz who tells him, "You’re just a prick, posing as a poet," you don’t need a bad review from a literary critic.

Fitzgibbon has the tougher assignment as he has been apparently encouraged by director Suzanne Barabas to enforce and validate Schwartz’s nutty behavior (that includes drunken binges and waving a loaded gun around in Bryant Park), with an excess of flailing hands and nervous body tics. One can’t say that Fitzgibbon isn’t acting up a storm.

Various locales are simply established within Jessica Parks’ setting featuring a neon-lit cityscape. The quirky structure of the dialogue, some of it almost singspiel in delivery, suggests that Linney sees his play as a lyrical convergence of these commiserating but creative poet/writers. The delivery is sharp, but it eventually grows wearisome. Although he always wanted to write like Schwartz but couldn’t, Klonsky was a friend to the end of Schwartz’s life. When Schwartz was found dead, destitute and alone in a rat trap of a hotel room, it was Klonsky who came to the morgue to identify him.

Though Linney maintained a friendship with Klonsky during the last ten years of Schwartz’s life he maintains that Klonsky never once talked about Schwartz, even after his death. Following Schwartz’s death, Klonsky began writing with a renewed intensity. One can see the motivation behind Linney’s play and find it compelling if also slightly unnerving.

Klonsky and Schwartz
Written by Romulus Linney
Directed by SuzAnne Barabas
Starring John FitzGibbon and David Volin
Scenic Design: Jessica Parks
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
Sound Design: Merek Royce Press
Technical Director: Randy Lee Hartwig
Running Time: 1 hr 15 minutes
New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J.
Box Office 732 – 229 – 3166 or
Booking to 10/02/05
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on Saturday August 27th performance
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