Review: ‘Oblivion Postponed’

Aflashy piece of business from Ron Nyswaner, author of the Oscar-nominated "Philadelphia" screenplay, "Oblivion Post-poned" is chock full of big speeches and big scenes, the kind actors love sinking their teeth into. But the meat in this feast is rancid, and the pleasures it offers an audience tend mostly to be of the guilty sort.

Aflashy piece of business from Ron Nyswaner, author of the Oscar-nominated “Philadelphia” screenplay, “Oblivion Post-poned” is chock full of big speeches and big scenes, the kind actors love sinking their teeth into. But the meat in this feast is rancid, and the pleasures it offers an audience tend mostly to be of the guilty sort.

“Oblivion” is set on the terra cotta terrace of a Rome hotel room (beautifully rendered in ocher and other earth tones by Allen Moyer and set off in a golden glow by Michael Lincoln). Longtime lovers David (David Aaron Baker) and Jeffrey (John Glover) are about to spend their last evening in the Eternal City dining with a somewhat older, straight, suburban couple they encountered only that afternoon.

Kyle (James Rebhorn) quickly reveals himself as a loud, boorish alcoholic (sample character-defining line:”Why can’t the Italians make decent pizza?”) whose amusement at being in the company of a gay couple falls just this side of explosive. Wife Patti (Mary Beth Hurt) wants to leave him, but she’s still trying to put her life back together after the suicide of their possibly gay teenage son.

Jeffrey and David have their own set of problems: Acerbic Jeffrey is a stringy drug addict and alcoholic who’s been clean for eight horrific months, while the devoted and saintly David is HIV-positive and desperate to make some sort of spiritual connection during the trip. The fifth character is a gay servant, Vincenzo (Tony Gillan), a smoothie adept at working every side against the middle.

The play bears a discomfiting number of similarities to Terrence McNally’s three works prior to the current “Master Class”: the straight couple in a gay environment, a la “Lips Together, Teeth Apart”; the foreign journey in search of spiritual connection after the death of a child from “A Perfect Ganesh”; the irredeemable cynic set off by another character who can do no wrong, from “Love! Valour! Compassion!” (of course, in that play, Glover had both those roles, twin brothers).

Moreover, with Jeffrey’s assertion that he will undoubtedly abandon David when the inevitable occurs and he gets sick, “Oblivion” also borrows a key element from “Angels in America” (which Kyle refers to in one of the play’s most maliciously funny lines).

I found myself mulling all these cross-references partly as a cushion against the mean-spiritedness of nearly everything that transpires in “Oblivion Postponed.” Kyle first knocks Jeffrey off the wagon and then pays him to fabricate a “spiritual event” that Kyle can use to impress Patti. Desperate to get to America, Vincenzo realizes a big kickback after arranging for Jeffrey to be mugged during a drug buy — and then openly brags about it. In a long monologue, Jeffrey recalls a brief fling with Jews for Jesus in the months just before his much more serious affair with heroin, while Kyle declares that the only things he believes in are “democracy, capitalism and the Cleveland Indians.” When he finally gets a glimpse of salvation, it’s too late.

Nyswaner’s writing arsenal includes a quiver of exclamation points, and director Nicholas Martin deploys his superb cast as though they were firing — or dodging — arrows. The result is high-pitched melodrama whose individual components seem real enough, but whose sum is zero.

Oblivion Postponed

Production

NEW YORK A Second Stage Theater presentation, by special arrangement with Hal Luftig, Brent Peek, Richard Samson and Elizabeth Williams, of a play in two acts by Ron Nyswaner. Directed by Nicholas Martin.

Crew

Set, Allen Moyer; costumes, Michael Krass; lighting, Michael Lincoln; sound, Randy Freed; production stage manager, Elise-Ann Konstantin; stage manager, Rebecca C. Monroe; casting, Stephanie Klapper; associate producer, Carol Fishman; press, Richard Kornberg. Artistic director, Carole Rothman; producing director, Suzanne Schwartz Davidson. Opened Dec. 7, 1995, at Second Stage. Reviewed Dec. 4; 108 seats; $ 35 . Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

With

Cast: David Aaron Baker (David), John Glover (Jeffrey), Tony Gillan (Vincenzo), Mary Beth Hurt (Patti), James Rebhorn (Kyle).
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