nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
September 13, 2006
Romantic screwball comedy is alive and well in WorkShop Theater Company's new production of Intellectuals, a very funny play by Scott C. Sickles about a trio of brainiacs who short circuit when faced with emotion. Guided perfectly by director David Gautschy and a crackerjack cast, Intellectuals is a refreshing reminder of how fun good theatre can be when everybody involved is on the same page.
Philip, an erudite philosophy professor, comes home one night to find his wife Margot's bags packed. After 20+ years of marriage, Margot, a psychologist, has decided to investigate "other unexplored alcoves" of her femininity. Translation: she's running off to become a lesbian. Caught in the middle is their mutual best friend, Brighton, a snobby film professor with a history of failed relationships. ("I'm the romantic equivalent of Chernobyl," he says at one point.) Having talked Brighton into spying on Margot for him, Philip hatches a plan to win her back by dating older Antonia, one of his philosophy students. Meanwhile, Margot has caught the eye of Hera Jane, a volunteer at the local gay and lesbian center. And, Brighton gets embroiled in a potential romance of his own with his much younger student Nick. So what does Luisa, the waitress at the local Italian eatery have to do with all of this? Oh, just wait and see. Like the best screwball comedies, Intellectuals has several surprising twists and turns in store for audiences.
Intellectuals also runneth over with some choice one-liners. Philip's initial reaction to Margot's impending departure is, "You don't have to go all Margaret Atwood on me." Later on, Margot expresses her frustration in finding an attractive date by remarking that the lesbian world contains "a maximum of five haircuts, all unflattering!" Philip gushes to Brighton about one of Antonia's best qualities: she read ahead in the required reading. "No student of mine has ever read ahead!" he utters in mystified awe. Brighton has a different reaction to Nick's blatant advances. "This is not the theatre department, you know?" he protests before adding, almost as an aside, that he needs a moment to process "this awkward Woody Allen/Derek Jarman moment."
The problem, of course, is that everyone is trying to make rational sense of what their heart is telling them (or completely ignoring what it's saying). That's what gives Intellectuals its comic kick: the gap between what the characters think they should do and what they really should do. Sickles, whose writing is strong throughout, exemplifies this best when Philip tells Margot that becoming a lesbian is "not Judaism. You can't convert."
Director Gautschy displays a fine-tuned comic sensibility that fits Intellectuals perfectly. He paces the production with sharp quickness, and gets terrific performances out his cast. Gautschy also has fun with some well-used video projections. Establishing the tone of the show right off the bat, he begins Intellectuals with one of Edward Hopper's lonely woman paintings accompanied by the sound of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross's jazz classic "Twisted." In a later scene, Margot enters Hera Jane's house with a Georgia O'Keefe print hovering over them. Obvious, yes, but still very funny.
The entire cast of Intellectuals is splendid. Patricia O'Connell and Kim Weston-Moran both supply plenty of sass and spunk as Antonia and Hera-Jane, respectively. Bill Tatum is amusing and well-cast as the cluelessly smug Philip. The adorably endearing Kari Swenson Riely makes the most out of Luisa and several other small roles. Jess Cassidy White is charming and likable as the smitten Nick. Providing the sturdy and hilarious center of Intellectuals is Ellen Dolan's fish-out-of-water performance as the sexy but flustered Margot. She is topped only by Bill Blechingberg's terrific scene-stealing antics as Brighton.
So, if you're looking for a good laugh and a good time at the theatre, Intellectuals is definitely the way to go. Sickles has a great time poking fun at the title characters, and his play is blessed with a polished and enjoyable production. Leave your thinking cap at home. Just go and laugh.