SAN DIEGO–It’s back to the drawing board for New Yorker cartoonist William Hamilton, whose “Interior Decoration” comprises mainly caricatures spouting cartoon one-liners. Some are funny, some aren’t, but hardly any sound like people conversing.
And, presumably intentionally, director Jack O’Brien has repeatedly placed the play’s four characters to look as if they’re posing for one of Hamilton’s sketches in the tony magazine. It’s like watching a living comic strip–a Lifestyles of the Rich and Droll.
Hamilton seems to be striving for a Noel Coward style of satire in which unlikable, selfish snobs engage in behavior that’s supposed to be laughable because they’re taking so seriously what everyone else perceives to be ridiculous.
The problem with that aim–and one reason why Coward’s comedies have become more historical than hysterical–comes from making an audience care what happens to the twits onstage. Either they need to have some human dimensions, or their repartee had better be clever enough to overcome their vapidity.
Hamilton has sometimes succeeded with that part, as when the lead couple gets introduced and the man opens with a classic: “I understand I’m to inseminate you.” Too often, however, the witticisms get offered like jokes– talk, stop, pose, deliver punch line, resume action–and the proceedings take on the pace of a comedy-club revue.
The plot certainly has potential. Sybil, a powerful businesswoman, wants to have a baby without romance or marriage to interfere with her career. She’s picked as a potential father William, a rich, handsome business rival. To arrange the delicate liaison, she calls on the husband and wife who are decorating her Fifth Avenue apartment and who know William.
Surprise. The chosen turns out to be an industrial-strength WASPy chauvinist oinker who agrees to the plan just to put the uppity woman in her place. That sets the stage for a battle of the titanic egos. And what happens? Well, just concentrate on the phrases “politically correct” and “family values.” It all gets resolved, unbelievably, with a feeble attempt at hiding-behind-the-screen farce.
More interesting–as is often the case in spoof-the-rich endeavors–is the hired help. The decorators’ marriage amounts to one of convenience, Gerald being gay and weary of the routine gags, Phillipa being a nurturer and savvy with the money Gerald makes but cares little about.
They get most of the good lines, which consist largely of observations made to each other or, more statically, directly to the audience. Unfortunately, those lines also come loaded with “in” references, polysyllabic words and labyrinthine syntax, causing dialogue to stumble off the tongue and/or fall on misunderstanding ears.
In part because of the scripted snarls, the four actors had inordinate problems on opening night with just the mechanics of delivery. Add some questionable direction, and the result is inconsistency all around.
As William, George Deloy spends most of his early appearances in a silly bluster, spitting out his lines like early Charlton Heston. When he drops that mode in later scenes, he registers like an actual person. Similarly, Deborah May is a more credible Sybil when she softens her edges. Deborah Taylor, as Philly, fits her character most snugly of the group, although her affected walk–a strange bent-leg sashay–is just too, too precious.
Most dubious is Tom Lacy’s Gerald, a man who resents descriptions like “flounce” even as he flounces. Whether it’s the writing, the direction or his own choice, Lacy plays him right out of the book, from the category “effete interior decorator.” He gets plenty of laughs, but some of them stem from shtick like a well-dressed man doing pirouettes.
Tech work serves the cause, headed by Ralph Funicello’s set, which revolves from Sybil’s elegant, muted apartment to William’s masculine, woodsy study.
Show runs through Aug. 23.