Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Beauty on the Vine - May 6, 2007

Zak Berkman's Beauty on the Vine is one of those rare plays with an intermission that does not make me want to skip out before the second act. Given the opportunity to escape at the half, I often debate whether to stay or go even if I didn't thoroughly hate the first act! Not so here. I still would have been happier without an intermission, but I never thought of leaving. In point of fact I actually wished there was a bit more to this play as I felt there were so many issues brought to the fore, all of them worthy of deeper exploration, that there certainly could have been more said. This piece would be worth turning into a cycle of plays to give each topic its fair measure.

This is not to say that Beauty on the Vine fails. Any play that makes you think, that touches you, and gives you cause to investigate the topics further is indeed a success.

The story centers on Lauren (Olivia Wilde) a beautiful, confident, and successful radio talk show host promoting the cause of the Republican Right... or is she? Unfortunately, Lauren is murdered by a stalker more because of her beauty than any of the other possible reasons proposed by the devastated family. Proposed reasons being her marriage to a racially ambiguous, liberal man with "genocide face", her Republican sentiments, or the 'love' obsession of a psychotic stalker.

After Lauren's death her newlywed husband Sweet (the delicious Howard W. Overshown) is approached by a woman who attended high school with her. She and another girl had plastic surgery to make themselves look like Lauren. Beautifully explained by the second of the two Lauren clones (all played equally well by Ms. Wilde in her Off-Broadway debut) "at 13 girls are given a cloak of invisibility. Some wear the cloak all their lives, some throw it off eventually, but Lauren never wore hers - [she knew who she was] and we turned to her like flowers turning to the sun"

Sweet's best friend Ellie (Helen Coxe) is at once humorous, endearing and level-headed, Daniel (Victor Slezak) is WASP father extraordinaire, and while slightly misguided, his love for his daughter Lauren is clear. The Mother (Barbara Garrick) of one of the Lauren clones leaves one wondering if they will ever eat a baby carrot again, and The Girl (Jessica Richardson) is the epitome of the insecure high school girl, and possibly a bit on the one tomato shy of a salad side.

I loved the set (Narelle Sissons) which afforded multi-uses of mirrors and see-thru prisons. The infinity views of Sweet and Daniel sitting side by side was powerful. Sound by Ryan Rumery, as ever, was on the mark. There is an issue of bad wig use for Lauren (Olivia Wilde) - it could use a serious combing out as it not only looks like a wig but a bad Halloween wig after a hard night.

For all the less explored topics, and bad wig, Beauty on the Vine is a beauty. I want more from Zak Berkman, and I think he does have more to say - I'm listening.

Beauty on the Vine
Clurman Theatre
410 W. 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
Tickets: 212-279-4200
running time: 2 hours 15 mins
Closes June 3

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