Play in a Pub
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
April 6, 2005
I love watching plays from cabaret-style seating. You have your table, your drink, your elbow room, it’s great! Phoenix Theatre Ensemble sets its latest production, Play in a Pub, in a bar adjacent to an Italian restaurant on 2nd Avenue, creating such a relaxed atmosphere that I walked away feeling like I had just visited some friends.
The night consists of two short one-acts. The first is A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot by Tennessee Williams. This play is actually set in a bar so it feels very natural when these two women, Flora and Bessie, come traipsing in with a typical Williams Southern belle manner. They are convention groupies, following various groups around the country in the hopes of meeting a nice man. They are currently following The Sons of Mars but have left to find a bar where the men might show up for post-convention cocktails.
Williams’s dialogue is crisp and funny. He has the two women banter about false pride and misunderstood sensibilities while drinking beer from fish bowls. He creates two characters who are, of course, fooling themselves about one thing or another. I think that Williams is trying to show the irony in their thinking that they are so misunderstood by others while in fact they misunderstand themselves. For example, they constantly point out each other’s flaws so they don’t have to face their own and they insist that their fruitless affairs have all been worthwhile.
Mara Stephens and Michele Tauber portray Flora and Bessie, respectively, with endearing zeal and commitment to their roles. They play off each other like seasoned comic actors who have been on the road together for years. Each has her Southern accent down pat, and her mischievously elegant gestures as well.
Director Jonathan Silverstein does an excellent job using the bar space he is provided. The actors’ movement is constantly engaging, and he keeps the pace moving briskly all the way to the end. I felt comfortable watching this crew.
The second play of the night is Romulus Linney’s Can Can. This is a memory play about two somewhat unlikely couples. One couple is a beautiful French girl and an unsophisticated American soldier. They take turns describing their brief passionate affair. The other couple is a busty but modest blond and a thin and somewhat haggard looking older woman. The blond is about to be married but before she ties the knot she meets the other woman and falls madly in love with her and they have an extended affair.
Linney has the characters tell their stories from their own perspectives, but they seem to be telling the story together as if they were relaying it to their children or a friend. Point of view does not seem to be the point of this play. Rather it would seem that Linney is trying to highlight an important first in these characters' lives. For the beautiful French girl, the soldier is her first man. For the soldier, this is his first time in a foreign country. For the blond girl and the older woman, this is their first step into a world they never thought they’d enter. It is as if all four are looking for something that is missing from their lives; something that they need to fulfill before they can move on.
I liked the beautiful French girl and the soldier. They had a sweet story to tell and the actors, Kelli Holsopple and Robert Ierardi, do a good job with their characters—especially Holsopple, who adds a great deal of nuance that earns her the most laughs from the audience. However, the other couple didn’t do it for me quite so much. These actors, Erin Espelie and Libby Hughes, have no real chemistry on stage, so I could not get into their story. I didn’t understand why they were together. They tell us that they have these really amazing conversations but I didn’t see how that could sustain their extended relationship.
Linney also directs this piece. He keeps a snappy pace throughout the show which is necessary for this play because it is mostly talking heads. He places the actors along the bar at first but he eventually moves them about the stage and into each other’s space.
Play in a Pub is a short night at the theatre, about 45 minutes of actual play time. So if you don’t have time for dinner because of the early start time, 7pm, don’t worry—you’ll have plenty of time to catch dinner after the show. One thing to keep in mind, there is a one drink minimum and that plus the price of your ticket may not be worth 45 minutes of your time. However, there are individual performances here that are certainly well worth the price.