Arthur Puts Spark in ‘After-Play’
Pasadena restaurants may get a surge of late-night diners now that Anne Meara’s “After-Play” is at the Pasadena Playhouse. It’s about two couples who go to a restaurant together after seeing a play.
But real-life theatergoers probably won’t be as entertaining as the onstage quartet. Especially if they can’t entice Beatrice Arthur, in her role as Renee Shredman, into joining them.
While Paul Dooley, Marian Mercer and Robert Mandan all have their funny moments, it’s Arthur’s unique comic style that powers this production of “After-Play,” staged by David Saint.
The play is a venting opportunity for the post-50, pre-70 age group. These couples are given two stark reminders of how well off they are in comparison to some others of their own generation, but this doesn’t stop them from expressing their disappointments. Fortunately, they do it with a sense of humor that speaks well for the idea--mentioned in the play itself--that laughter can heal.
There are hints that the play’s ambitions go beyond surface realism. An author’s program note says that the name of the waiter, Raziel, is also the Angel of the Unknown, the Angel of Mysteries, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica. This waiter (Dennison Samaroo) does create a few mild surprises involving the surroundings of this posh Manhattan restaurant. However, his powers don’t seem to add up to much more than a cheeky sense of the theatrical.
Another hint: Before the couples enter the restaurant, we hear a loud crash outdoors. Upon entering, they discuss how their cab driver “missed that truck by inches.” Yet what we heard didn’t sound like a miss. Still, this discrepancy is easy to dismiss.
Stop reading now if you don’t want to know more about these hints before you see the play. The published script, checked after seeing the play, revealed that the title is not simply a description of the circumstances of this meeting of old friends, as well as a little pun on “foreplay,” but it’s also a play on the word “afterlife.” Not only do the characters discuss the possibility of an afterlife, they are in it--without realizing it.
Most of the audience won’t realize it, either, at least judging from my own reaction. If you do figure it out, you may wonder where that third couple (Susan Clark and Kenneth Ryan), who momentarily stop at the table of the main characters, came from--or why this super-human waiter failed to remember Renee’s order. But the larger question is why Meara bothered with this larger framework. These characters aren’t transformed in any way. Was Meara overly influenced by the chic status of angels and Tony Kushner?
The Shredmans (Arthur and Dooley) dismiss elements of the play they’ve just seen, “Jamie, We Hardly Knew You,” as manipulative devices. They’re from the Hollywood sitcom world, and they know shtick, or so says Renee. This offends their friends, who were deeply moved by the play, and leads to some lively argument. Perhaps, by framing her own play as she did, Meara was trying to provide a similar discussion topic for those who see it.
But it’s likelier that audiences will want to recall the funny stuff. Imagine Arthur’s reaction--not only her line but her look--when everyone else’s entree is brought, but hers isn’t. Or the way she describes a recent case of parent abuse involving her daughter and a colander. Her caustic delivery is impeccable.
Mercer’s Terry Guteman is a bundle of nerves, taking and giving offense easily, wrapped up in her therapy, though her problems with her children remain too vague in the writing. Dooley’s Phil Shredman is a rumpled, double-chinned comedy writer who lives to joke, but has a few moments when jokes don’t suffice for his own anger toward the younger generation. Mandan’s Marty Guteman, though afflicted by back pain and moved to tears by the play, is surprisingly sunny, considering his wife’s angst. The two men do an impromptu old-fashioned comedy duet, but this, too, plays like one of the nostalgic devices that the Shredmans like to mock.
The third couple who briefly pass by, the Paines, add welcome variety. Wounds are still fresh from their son’s death. Susan Clark effectively sketches the mother whose grief has turned ugly, while Kenneth Ryan plays her apologetic husband.
Velvety colors and the furnishings of James Youmans’ set convey the restaurant’s luxurious atmosphere while also suggesting something ethereal, but Zoe DuFour’s costumes solidly bespeak the characters’ earthly status without venturing into the play’s outer realms.
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* “After-Play,” Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 and 9 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends Dec. 21. $13.50-$42.50. (800) 233-3123. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Robert Mandan: Marty Guteman
Marian Mercer: Terry Guteman
Paul Dooley: Phil Shredman
Beatrice Arthur: Renee Shredman
Dennison Samaroo: Raziel
Susan Clark: Emily Paine
Kenneth Ryan: Mathew Paine
By Anne Meara. Directed by David Saint. Sets by James Youmans. Lighting by Paulie Jenkins. Costumes by Zoe DuFour. Sound by John Gromada. Production stage manager Elsbeth M. Collins.
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