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A Word With Orlando

Almost nothing happens in David T. Chantler's new play at the Odyssey. The hero (a wildly extreme definition for such a glum, lifeless protagonist), wanders around his Sicilian villa, trying to decide why his marriage went wrong. Flashbacks reveal that the problem was an inability to express feelings and for over 2½ hours, the story restates this half-baked conflict.

With:
Parker - William H. Bassett Ciccina - Ivy Bethune Steven - Nat Christian Paola - Magda Harout Umberto - Igor Korosec Carla - Roberta Orlandi Rosa - Jeanette O'Connor Pancrazzio - Ralph P. Martin Carmelo - Charley Rossman Miles - Jacob Witkin Elaine - Molly Weber

Almost nothing happens in David T. Chantler’s new play at the Odyssey. The hero (a wildly extreme definition for such a glum, lifeless protagonist), wanders around his Sicilian villa, trying to decide why his marriage went wrong. Flashbacks reveal that the problem was an inability to express feelings (“you’re always on guard defending against the enemy — love,” cries his affection-starved wife), and for over 2½ hours, the story restates this half-baked conflict.

Meeting Nat Christian as the repressed Steven elicits the question, Is his stiffness a deliberate attempt to show emotional rigidity, or is he simply a wooden actor? The answer, regrettably, is both. Christian mumbles his lines like a robot — when he remembers them — and comes off with less passion than his puppet alter ego Orlando, who remains silent for the evening.

Steven’s genial, white-bearded neighbor, Miles (a warm Jacob Witkin), urges him to reconcile with ex-wife Elaine (Molly Weber), and then Miles refers to the painful loss he suffered when partner Percival plunged off a mountaintop years before.

While the author drops hints that Miles and Percival’s relationship might have been less than idyllic (an event that precipitates a resolution of breathtaking absurdity), Steven and Elaine purchase their villa in Taormina and analyze the gulf between them. Elaine, finally fed up, says, “I need you to scream and shout … don’t leave me,” and he stuffily stands his ground: “We are what we are … I am who I am.”

We’re meant to understand that Steven has lust-for-life possibilities when he shows Elaine a painting he has created with alternate titles, “Sunrise on the Ganges” and “Midnight in Helsinki.” At an earlier time, he joins Miles and friend Umberto (Igor Korosec) in a klutzy Zorba dance that leaps out of nowhere. But Elaine doesn’t sense the inner fire inside her “stone statue” of a husband, and she flees to a New York job as Cosmo contributing editor.

Director Judy Rose’s pacing is lethargic and ridden with lugubrious, pregnant pauses. Time is dribbled away on such appallingly tedious procedures as watching Steven follow instructions and put together a CD player, and on irrelevant asides with employees Pancrazzio (Ralph P. Martin) and Rosa (Jeanette O’Connor), who look authentic but add nothing significant to the plot.

A few cast members manage to energize listless dialogue. As Paola, a shrewdly calculating realtor, Magda Harout has a devious charm, and Charley Rossman brings awkward sincerity to the role of Carmelo, Elaine’s secret admirer. Roberta Orlandi gives predatory oomph to the other woman role, but since Steven is such a non-reactive stick, she seems to be flirting in a vacuum.

Julia Austerman’s costumes are more colorful than the personalities wearing them, and Danny Truxaw adds visual interest by lighting a group scene cleverly to spotlight characters in pairs. Unfortunately, most of the situations are so dreary that they deserve to languish in darkness.

A Word With Orlando

Odyssey Theater; 99 seats; $20 top

Production: A Drama Associates production of a play by David T. Chantler. Directed by Judy Rose.

Crew: Sets and lighting, Danny Truxaw; costumes, Julia Austerman; music and sound, Daryl Orenge; stage manager, Glenn Porter. Opened and reviewed Nov. 19, 2004; runs through Dec. 19. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MINS.

Cast: Parker - William H. Bassett Ciccina - Ivy Bethune Steven - Nat Christian Paola - Magda Harout Umberto - Igor Korosec Carla - Roberta Orlandi Rosa - Jeanette O'Connor Pancrazzio - Ralph P. Martin Carmelo - Charley Rossman Miles - Jacob Witkin Elaine - Molly Weber

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