×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Pension Grillparzer

John Irving ("The Cider House Rules") penned "The Pension Grillparzer" as an example of the literary output of the fictional character of his 1978 novel "The World According to Garp." Adapter-helmer Mollie Boice has lifted this word for word from the page and planted it on the stage. Boice choreographs a 13-member ensemble through this coming-of-age tale.

With:
Narrator - Brandon Ford Green Father - John Edwin Shaw Mother - Karen Reed Johanna - Leslie Simms Robo - Chase Morgan Herr Theobald - Tony Burton Gypsy Woman - Bobbi Stamm Dream Man - Tony Edwards The Singer - Philip McKeown Duna the Bear - Jon Bastian The Man Who Walked on His Hands - Matt Ryan The W.C. - Steve Shaw The Second Wife - Khamara Pettus

John Irving (“The Cider House Rules”) penned “The Pension Grillparzer” as an example of the literary output of the fictional title character of his 1978 novel “The World According to Garp.” Adapter-helmer Mollie Boice has lifted this quirky little tale (including its narrative descriptions) word for word from the page and planted it on the stage of North Hollywood-based the Company Rep. Utilizing the self-narrative “story theater” techniques of Second City founder Paul Sills, Boice choreographs an impressively committed 13-member ensemble through this meandering coming-of-age tale, pounding out every syllable of the text. The unfortunate end result is a dominance of technique over content, overpowering the slight literary merits of Irving’s work.

The author has seen his work given similar treatment but on a much larger scale. In 1998 the Mark Taper Forum produced a sumptuous 6½-hour staging (in two parts) of his novel “The Cider House Rules,” with the actors voicing the author’s narrative portions of the novel as illumination for the dialogue. The sprawling complexity of the novel demanded this type of clarification. The underwhelming machinations of “Grillparzer” don’t.

The storyline follows the childhood memories of the Narrator (Brandon Ford Green), looking back on his life as the son of a hotel critic (John Edwin Shaw), surreptitiously traveling the European countryside to judge the merits of mid-level commercial accommodations while never allowing the various innkeepers to know the true purpose of the visits. As the narrator recalls, it was a full family enterprise, including his imperious grandmother Johanna (Leslie Simms), always-accommodating Mother (Karen Reed) and his adventurous pre-teen brother Robo (Chase Morgan).

Boice cleverly moves the family about the limited Company rep stage area, highlighting the family dynamic as they utilize their luggage as set pieces and incorporate synchronized body movement to re-create their car journey. At first, their ongoing Greek chorus-like “he said” and “she responded” interjections come off as well-executed narrative illumination. But as the action moves forward, it’s quite apparent there is nothing being said or explained that requires this intrusive device. The second act becomes texturally more interesting as the hotel critic and family find themselves in temporary residence at the near-squalid Pension Grillparzer, run by constantly overwhelmed innkeeper Herr Theobald (Tony Burton).

Irving’s talent for inventing memorably offbeat characters is realized by the hotel’s inhabitants, the tattered remnants of a Hungarian circus troupe. Entangling themselves within the lives of the hotel critic’s family are the mysterious Dream Man (Tony Edwards), a slatternly Gypsy woman (Bobbi Stamm), an aging lothario known as the Singer (Philip McKeown), the life-challenged Man Who Walks on His Hands (Steve Show) and that icon of almost every John Irving work, an emotionally unstable unicycle-riding bear (Jon Bastian).

Though often intriguing, there is nothing thematically complex about the sad shenanigans experienced by the Pension’s inhabitants that need to be highlighted by the narrative overlay. In fact, the action would carry a lot more dramatic tension if the dialogue were allowed to stand on its own.

Among the generally capable perfs, Leslie Simms is memorable as Johanna, a haughty grand dame who has her emotional stability crushed by the all-too-perceptive musings of the Dream man.

Giving this work added veracity are the evocative production designs of Luke Moyer (sets and lights) and Hope Alexander (costumes), as well the mood-enhancing original score of Max Kinberg.

Popular on Variety

The Pension Grillparzer

The Company Rep; 99 seats; $22.50 top

Production: A Company Rep presentation of a play in two acts, adapted by Mollie Boice from the novel by John Irving, directed by Boice.

Creative: Sets & lights, Luke Moyer; costumes, Hope Alexander; composer, Max Kinberg. Opened and reviewed March 26; runs until April 25. Running time: 90 MIN.

Cast: Narrator - Brandon Ford Green Father - John Edwin Shaw Mother - Karen Reed Johanna - Leslie Simms Robo - Chase Morgan Herr Theobald - Tony Burton Gypsy Woman - Bobbi Stamm Dream Man - Tony Edwards The Singer - Philip McKeown Duna the Bear - Jon Bastian The Man Who Walked on His Hands - Matt Ryan The W.C. - Steve Shaw The Second Wife - Khamara Pettus

More Legit

  • Stephen Moore

    Stephen Moore, 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Android, 'Doctor Who' Actor, Dies at 81

    Stephen Moore, best known for his roles as the paranoid android Marvin in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” radio series and the Silurian Eldane in “Doctor Who,” has died. He was 81. “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” producer Dirk Maggs confirmed Moore’s death Sturday on Twitter, writing, “Our dear friend Stephen Moore has [...]

  • Ben Platt Variety Power of New

    Ben Platt on Coming Out and the Queerness of 'The Politician'

    Ben Platt never imagined he would one day star in a series like “The Politician.” “I didn’t think I could be a star of a show in general starting out. I think I was like, ‘I’ll do Broadway. I can be on stage and I can play Jimmy in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Nathan Detroit [...]

  • Michael Jackson in concert in Milton

    Michael Jackson Musical to Open on Broadway in Summer 2020

    “MJ,” a musical based on the life and career of Michael Jackson, will open on Broadway in summer 2020. Preview performances will start July 6 before its official debut on Aug. 13. The stage show, which will include songs like “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and “Smooth Criminal,” was originally [...]

  • The Wrong Man review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Wrong Man'

    Credit songwriter Ross Golan for the seamless quality of “The Wrong Man,” his mesmerizing musical about a good man who deserves a good life but seems to attract nothing but bad luck. The show’s inventive book, music, and lyrics were all penned by this multi-hyphenate talent who was named 2016 BMI Pop Songwriter of the [...]

  • Kristin Chenoweth Broadway

    Listen: Kristin Chenoweth Wants to Write a Broadway Musical

    Kristin Chenoweth doesn’t just want to star in Broadway musicals. She’s thinking about writing one, too. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I think about it a lot,” Chenoweth said on the latest episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast. “I want someone to collaborate with me on a story I have, and it would be [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content