nytheatre.com review by Sharon Fogarty
August 15, 2004
Barrymore’s Body gave me the wonderfully eerie sense that I was partying with Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Paul Henried during their early filming of Casablanca. Writer/director Jeff Tabnick’s truly inspired play looks at the underside of three Hollywood legends at a time when they were teetering between being pigeon-holed for life or realizing their potential as "leading men." At the point in their lives, Bogey, Lorre, and Henreid were already "characters" themselves, imitated in cartoons and on radio shows, while secretly praying for a turning point in their careers.
It is the day of the famous actor John Barrymore’s death in 1942 and, through a connection at the morgue, Lorre is given Barrymore’s body to abet a practical joke. Barrymore’s remains remain the perfect symbol of the actors’ goals, fears, and eventual demise as victims of Hollywood.
Tabnick’s fantasy is totally plausible, as Hollywood’s celebrities were rank with pranksters. His well-written, existential but light-hearted exploration into the lives of the Casablanca trio is a warming, sad tribute conveying these stars’ vulnerability which perhaps could only otherwise be glimpsed in a blooper reel or rare interview.
Gregory Steinbruner is funny as the handsome and egotistical Henreid (who played Lazlo in Casablanca), with the perfect profile and a voice to match. Bogart is played impeccably by the talented Christian Baskous who radiates the actor’s integrity alongside unfathomable sweetness, all under the protective veneer of the renowned tough guy. With eyes closed, I believed I was in the room with Bogart and can only criticize Baskous as being a bit too handsome in the role. Most outstanding was Dan Truman’s portrayal of Lorre, for which I did not have to close my eyes. Truman channels Lorre physically and vocally and my thought of "where did they find these guys?" was replaced with, "it’s so nice to see them again."
The play is very entertaining and although it is not a mystery, the actors keep an air of suspense throughout. Only a bit uneven and under-directed in the beginning, (totally understandable for the busy and self-produced Tabnick), the brand new Barrymore’s Body has wonderful potential, brilliant actors, and shows great promise for the new acting company Propinquity Productions.