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A CurtainUp Review
Where's My Money?

by Les Gutman
Romance is for men; women who settle for romance get used.
---John Patrick Shanley's Natalie

Labyrinth Theater Company's Production of Where's My Money
Moves to the Manhattan Theatre Club

The advance notices about this second staging of John Patrick Shanley's black as black comedy claimed that the script has been rewritten. Not having seen the original production last summer, it's hard to say just what is new beyond the addition of a joke about the Taliban. However, nothing mentioned in Les Gutman's review seems to have been eliminated.

The skewered set (to reflect these characters' skewered expectations of life and their relationships) is in place and so, except for John Ortiz, is the cast. Ortiz's replacement, Erik Laray Harvey, fills his shoes quite competently. To be perfectly frank, however, I don't think even Mr. Ortiz, whose work I greatly admire, could have made me see his character, or any other in this play, as anything but non-dimensional. While I'm more often in agreement with my able and insightful co-editor's opinion, I found much less to like here than he did.

Shanley's dialogue is smart. He knows how to spin a keep-them-guessing plot, complete with the theme from the old Perry Mason TV shows to soak it in the right atmosphere. These assets notwithstanding, I found the game played on the reverse-raked harlequin patterned stage hardly worth the candle. Things starts out well enough with a surrealistic bang followed by a terrific scene between would-be actress Celeste (Yetta Gottesman) and her critical and practical accountant friend, Natalie (Paula Pizzi) After that promising beginning, however, the dream sequences that end each scene are more bizarre than surreal and there's nothing deep or original enough to warrant the poison running through many of the speeches.

I think for this play to warrant the move uptown under the auspices of the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club, it needed an outside script doctor -- either that, or Mr. Shanley should have turned over the director's baton to someone else and concentrated on giving his play the depth that his clever writing deserves. As it stands, except for the line "Monogamy is like a 40-watt bulb. It Works but it's not enough" this is less a case of Where's My Money? than Where's The Beef? -- Elyse Sommer

---Our Original Review- by Les Gutman

Where's My Money?
Y. Gottesman and P. Pizzi
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
"What is marriage?" There are a lot of questions asked in John Patrick Shanley's darkly funny, surreally entertaining new play, but that's the one that looms, unasked until the play's end. It's a more trenchant inquiry than it might seem at first blush: after all, a lot of people seem to say "I do" without having its answer firmly in hand. One can quibble, perhaps, with the narrow slice of the battle of the sexes that Shanley assays for us here, but there's no denying he has tapped into both poles of the current that electrifies the matrimonial ritual.

The themes of Where's My Money?, marital confliction and infidelity, and its seeds in emotional inadequacy, are familiar ones for Shanley. They pervade his plays like Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and Italian American Reconciliation (review linked below), as well as his Oscar-winning film Moonstruck. They return now stripped of any residual insulation.

And what better way to wire his story than by coiling it around a pair of divorce lawyers? One might hope that the work of a divorce lawyer would lead to some more refined wisdom on the subject of relationships, but the evidence here doesn't support the notion. One's willingness to dispense advice on such matters -- endemic in the Brooklyn Shanley portrays -- seems inversely proportional to one's need for it.

Where's My Money? opens with the familiar theme song of television's Perry Mason, but from its opening, wordless series of blackout images it's clear Shanley is treading closer to the province of The Twilight Zone. His characters may be terrorized by their marriages and extramarital affairs, but they are haunted by ghosts and hear noises.

Celeste (Yetta Gottesman) and Natalie (Paula Pizzi) used to work together. Catching up at a coffee shop after a couple of years, it's evident they've taken very different paths. Natalie, an accountant, is now straight-laced, married to a young lawyer, Henry (John Ortiz), and living on the Upper West Side; Celeste, who temps, is still living with her deadbeat stoner boyfriend in a studio, although she's been having a affair for six months with a married man, who turns out to be Sidney (David Deblinger), Henry's mentor at his law firm.

Natalie is all business, and not the least bit subtle ("total honesty" is her policy), insisting that Celeste needs to get her act together. But Celeste is grooving on her wild escapades. At home, however, Natalie hasn't quite worked out her "deal" with Henry: stung by a previous marriage, he won't even open a joint checking account. And Hernan (Chris McGarry), her ex-lover, now dead, keeps appearing to her, demanding to know where the $2700 he loaned her for her wedding dress is. Henry, meanwhile, turns to Sidney for counsel, but Sidney turns out to be a man for whom a wife is just someone to lie to. "You don't hold a chain saw by the chain," he tells him. Not surprisingly, when Sidney faces a crisis and heads home, his wife, Marcia Marie (Florencia Lozano), doesn't welcome him with open arms. Why should she? "You destroy marriages for a living," she reminds him. "While you destroy them gratuitously," he responds. Henry returns home to give Natalie some choices and discovers he hates the truth, because "the truth has no heart."

Shanley's thesis may have some holes in it, but it's hard to notice. Under his punchy, aggressively paced direction, sure-footed comedy and keen dialogue, the cast acquits itself with unrelenting accuracy and perfect timing. There is no weak link in this fine ensemble. The contrasts between the passionate but happy-go-lucky Gottesman and the by-the-numbers, career-minded Pizzi in the opening scene are marvelous; Pizzi's demeanor shifts perceptibly in the following scene as she confronts Henry. We've seen both of these actors doing good work before (Gottesman in Unmerciful Good Fortune, Pizzi in Wit), but their performances here exceed out expectations. We've seen the exceptional Ortiz before as well (most notably in last season's Jesus Hopped the A Train and Salvador Dali Makes Me Hot); his performance here, the play's fulcrum, takes him in a different direction, in a portrayal that is tough but exceedingly emotional in range. Deblinger is new to us, but wonderful, especially in his blisteringly funny evocation of Sidney as a full-of-himself Brooklyn Jewish divorce lawyer and husband from hell. Lozano, also new to us, is very much his match, corroborating with cold and wicked humor that Sidney indeed "stole her soul."

Michelle Malavey's set places the action into a heavily skewed perspective, reminding us that what Shanley has on his mind is as much parable as plot, and that one's viewpoint depends largely on where one is standing. Battle on

Italian American Reconciliation

Where's My Money?
Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley
Original Cast: David Deblinger, Yetta Gottesman, Florencia Lozano, Chris McGarry, John Ortiz and Paula Pizzi

MTC cast: Same as above, with the exception of Erik Laray Harvey who replaces John Ortiz Set Design: Michelle Malavey
Lighting Design: Sarah Sidman
Costume Design: Mimi O'Donnell
Sound Design: Eric DeArmon
Fight Choreography: Blaise Corrigan
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes without intermission
The Labyrinth Theater Company production which palyed at Center Stage 6/19/01-7/14/01 is now presented in association with Manhattan Theatre Club
Stage II at City Center, Stage II, (131West 55th Street (6/7th Aves) 212/ 581-1212
Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 3:00 and & 7:30 PM From 10/16/01; opening 11/07/01
-- $45, $20 student tickets based on availability, one hour before showtime (limit 4 per student with valid identification.

Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 7/6/01 performance-- re-reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 11/08/01 performance
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