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Friday, June 17, 2011

Theatre Review: Pandora Productions "The New Century"

As a playwright and columnist Paul Rudnick is known for embedding his shrewd powers of observation in volleys of one-liners. (His unique and hilarious film critiques appeared in Premiere magazine under the nom-de-plume Libby Gelman-Wexner for more than a decade.)

At times The New Century relies too much on your understanding of New York and New Yorkers. A bit of insider information: the title of the play comes from a real store called Century 21 located near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. A few of the jokes lose some of their punch in translation, but there are so many that the ratio is statistically insignificant.

Rudnick, who is the most-produced playwright in the Pandora Productions pantheon, created The New Century in 2008, bringing together three one-act monologues that he bound together with an epilogue. Producer Michael Drury directs two of the acts, but enlisted two skilled directors Steven Rahe and Georgette Kleier to set one monologue each.

The first monologue, Pride and Joy, directed by Rahe, introduces us to Helene Nadler, a Jewish mother who is very much the Long Island personification of his alter-ego Gelman-Wexner. Helene, played incisively by veteran actor Carol Tyree Williams, the mother of three members of sexe sans frontieres: a lesbian, a transexual, and a fetishist is alternately proud, sad, confused and confounded by the people her children have become. With the character of Helene and throughout his work, Rudnick draws on the Jewish tradition of hyperbole to sharpen the barbs of his humor. He is also unafraid of stereotype, which he uses as a distraction while setting up his punches.

Stereotype is the order of the day in the second act, Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach, who loses his New York privileges and is banished to south Florida where he takes revenge on his adversaries by hosting a cable television show called Too Gay! Drury direction is sharp and Eddie Lewis, one of the owner/operators of Connection, clearly revels in the absurdities of Mr. Charles--an over-the-top, limp-wristed sibilant-spewing caricature who delivers his remarks with relish. Joining Lewis are a fearless young actor Keil Dodd, who lists no credits aside from Pandora Productions and the multi-talented Laura Ellis. Dodd plays the part of Shane, Mr. Charles's "ward" who "discovers" Century 21 during the play's final act. Ellis is the cable television receptionist Joanna Mildberry and also serves as sound designer for the production.

The third monologue, Crafty, is directed brilliantly by Kleier and stars Susan McNeese Lynch as Barbara Ellen Diggs of Decatur, Illinois. Interestingly this was the least well received by New York reviewers. In his 2008 review of the show Ben Brantley of the New York Times said, "It's Mr. Rudnick's imposed hyperbole that's operating here, not. . .the character's own." As native midwesterner I found Lynch's portrayal of the craft-obsessed homebody who pastes her aunt's gallstone into a scrapbook commemoration to be the most natural and genuine of the three. Lynch, is clearly moved as she describes the loss of her son to AIDS. Her experiences and connections with friends and strangers who inhabited her son's world as a Broadway costume designer had my eyes watering. In Crafty Rudnick expresses the universal nature of pain, disease, death and the implausible hope that lets us all continue or daily lives.

The New Century continues through June 26 in the Thrust Theatre at the University of Louisville, located at the corner of Floyd and Warnock Streets. A parking lot is located on the south side of the theatre off Floyd Street. Tickets are available at the door or in advance by calling 216.5502 or go to www.PandoraProds.org.
  

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