THE AUTHOR’S VOICE
Gene…..Philip Seymour Hoffman
Dana Sue Kay…..Polly Draper
Brad’s Wife…..Amy Ryan
There’s been more than enough ink on the subject of the recent English and Irish colonization of Broadway, though oddly little has been written about the lackluster season contemporary American playwrights have had Off Broadway. That depressing fact is reason enough to applaud the Drama Department’s presentation of one-acts by two of our most dashing dramatic wits —Richard Greenberg and Peter Hedges. While neither Greenberg’s “The Author’s Voice” nor Hedges’ “Imagining Brad” is new, both have a freshness and fluency that outshines most of the current dramaturgically impaired competition. Evan Yionoulis’ staging is pleasantly brisk, though her polished production doesn’t always capture the sneaky comic depths.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (last seen as the sweaty obscene phone-caller in Todd Solondz’s film “Happiness”) makes a vividly creepy impression as Gene, the character who serves as “the author’s voice” in Greenberg’s uncharacteristically Kafkaesque comedy.
Secretly holed up in a squalid back room, this semi-paralyzed gnome scribbles a new novel for Todd (Christopher Orr), the attractive but not very bright young man who gets to pose as “the author” before the world.
The two have struck a deal that supposedly plays to the strengths each man: In exchange for Gene’s writing, Todd will not only provide him with free room and board but will deal with the litany of Armani-dressed publishers and publicists who can’t seem to get enough of his camera-ready good looks.
It’s not until Portia (Paige Turco), the beautiful, high-powered editor assigned to the duo’s still-unfinished book, makes a pass at Todd that Gene begins to rattle the chains that bind him.
One of Greenberg’s trenchant ironies is that while poor, hobbled, artistically compulsive Gene is capable of lust, Todd can only think of fame. As a lover, he’s simply inept, though his sexually frustrated ghostwriter has made him an ultimatum: either sleep with Portia in their cramped, keyhole-ridden apartment or no more pages.
The ensuing tug-of-war fiendishly demonstrates not only how competitive but vengeful and destructive the relationship can become between the public and private sides of a writer’s identity.
Yionoulis does a fine job establishing the imaginative world of the play. The set, designed with impressionistic austerity by Allen Moyer, conjures a monk’s cell in the middle of New York. Behind a forbidding door lurks Gene’s room, which remains out of sight, though apparently not beyond the range of smell.
The production is somewhat less successful in developing the situation. It’s all competently rendered, though there are few striking discoveries or unexpected points of view.
The actors all look right in their roles, though their broad comic playing conceals possible hidden depths. And without subtext, Greenberg’s ingenious creation seems little more than a witty, diagrammatic sketch.
Hedges’ “Imagining Brad” is a very funny, sensitive piece about the budding friendship between two Nashville-based married women who meet during a church social.
A friendly but relentless gossip, Dana Sue Kay (Polly Draper) has trouble understanding why the parish newcomer known simply as Brad’s wife (Amy Ryan) has shown up without her husband.
Not long into their conversation, however, it becomes clear that there’s more wrong with Brad than his failure to attend Sunday service.
It’s bad enough that this man won’t have his picture taken or be seen in public, but when Dana finds out he’s missing most of his extremities, covered in body hair and totally blind, she’s flat out dumbstruck.
Why, in heaven’s name, would a pretty young thing give herself to what sounds like a homunculus? Brad’s wife tries to explain her love for this man, his gentle nature, and the generous way that he encourages her to pursue her dream of becoming a famous country singer.
After having lived for years under the terror of her sexually abusive father, she cannot even imagine her good fortune at having found such a fine man as Brad. So what if he sleeps in an oversized bassinet.
As it turns out, Dana has more than her share of trouble with her own husband , who routinely beats her into a bloody pulp. After finally admitting that her so-called “accidents” are nothing but a cover-up for his violence, she begins to recognize the beauty of tenderness, no matter how superficially hideous the source.
Though Hedges’ psychology isn’t exactly subtle, the emotion shared between the two women is deeply felt. Draper and Ryan make such a winning pair that it’s impossible not to root for their characters’ friendship. The overall effect is that of a modern fable, the moral of which is ultimately less important than the comic magic.
The Drama Department’s charming pair of one-acts certainly doesn’t salvage what has been a rather forgettable Off Broadway season, though it may represent a turning point.
Richard Greenberg’s new play “Hurrah! At Last” is soon to open at the Roundabout, and, with any luck, Hedges will be sure to follow.