Three Funny Ones

Next up, Central Park West, Woody Allen's savagely accurate take on fear and loathing among upper-middle-class married New Yorkers. ("Marriage is the death of hope," one character says to another during the play. Overheard in the lobby after the performance, a young woman to an older woman: "I'm not sure I want to get married any more.")

When psychoanalyst Phyllis (Klein) learns that her entertainment-lawyer husband Sam (Newfield) plans to run off with her best friend Carol (Judith Delgado), she summons Carol on the pretext of an emergency. She then proceeds to confront her. Soon, however, the apartment fills up with Carol's manic-depressive, failed-writer husband, Howard (Giaimo); a pouting, nubile, and young former patient of Carol's, Juliet (Donna Frenzel), Sam's other lover; and the returning though remorseless Sam. As the insults and accusations ricochet around the stage, and all varieties of nasty secrets are brought to light, Allen reveals his gift for wielding laser-sharp language that articulates our miseries, yearnings, and self-delusions. Forget the wistfulness that tinges the artist's most brilliant film comedies -- Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors. Here Allen aims straight for the jugular and hits every time.

You can almost sense the misogynist joy that Allen vicariously experiences by putting invective after invective into Phyllis's mouth: "You trollop. You tart. You bovine frump. You cunt." Yet neither sex escapes Allen's scalpel. Howard is a nebbish whose sexual performance, according to his wife, resembles "putting an oyster into a parking meter," while the philandering Sam, emasculated by Phyllis, lives for illicit sex. Allen doesn't avoid sticking it to himself either. When Howard points out that Juliet is young enough to be Sam's daughter, Sam leeringly responds, "But she's not."

Kalfin crisply choreographs these domestic shenanigans while Klein pungently depicts Phyllis as a woman with much greater purpose than Dorothy's in Hotline, but with an equal desire to abuse the people around her. Newfield and Giaimo get to break out of the confines of Mamet's opener and hysterically go head-to-head as rivals. Delgado alternates between fawning as the supplicant friend and lover and seething as the woman scorned. And Lambert's black-and-white set design of an Upper West Side apartment with a view of the city wittily references a generic New Yorker magazine cartoon.

David Mamet's contribution to this comedy collection about modern anxiety may not weigh in as substantively as its companion pieces, at least in the Playhouse's production of Death Defying Acts. But sitting through it is a relatively painless price to pay in order to relish Elaine May and Woody Allen's wickedly funny offerings.

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