Reviewed by George Basler
A lot of things from the 1960s haven’t aged well: love beads, Nehru jackets and bell-bottom trousers, to name a few.
And, based on a production that opened last weekend at Binghamton’s KNOW Theatre, Murray Schisgal’s Luv can be added to the list.
A smash hit when it opened on Broadway in 1964, the comedy was blessed with the serendipitous cast of Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson. Directed by Mike Nichols, it ran for 901 performances and carted off several Tony awards.
But the KNOW Theatre production feels forced, only intermittently funny and hopelessly dated in some of its sensibilities. Whether this is because the play has aged badly or because there is a problem with acting and direction, the overall experience fell flat.
Schisgal’s play is a mixture of absurdist humor and traditional Broadway comedy. It may have been intended as a parody of avant-garde drama that takes itself way too seriously. The play’s sensibilities are in line with the unconventional hip attitudes of other dramatists such as Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns) and Bruce Jay Friedman who were popular at the time.
But what’s hip today can be as flat as day-old soda tomorrow.
The three-character play begins when Milt, a successful stockbroker, stumbles across an old college buddy, Harry, who is ready to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. It turns out that Milt isn’t that happy either, because he wants to dump his controlling wife, Ellen, to marry his new “hot” girlfriend.
Milt hatches a plot of get Harry and Ellen to fall in love with each other, freeing him to marry his girlfriend. That works out, meaning everyone should live happily ever after. But, of course, it doesn’t turn out that way.
Scattered throughout the play are comic bits, such as Milt and Harry trying to top each other on who had the worse childhood, and Ellen producing a flow chart to detail her love life with Milt. Somehow, though, these interludes aren’t as funny as they should be.
The problem may be that the direction by Tim Gleason, who is also artistic director of the KNOW Theatre, is a bit heavy-handed. The talented actress Amoreena Wade, whom I’ve admired in other productions, is too shrill as Ellen, undercutting the role‘s humor. She plays anger OK, but pathos is lacking.
Eric Michael Patten does a creditable job as Harry but is a little too understated. Nick Ponterio also does a creditable job as Milt, but all three actors seem to lack chemistry with each other.
The bigger problem, though, is Schisgal’s material. Audience members will either love the over-the-top writing, or hate it. For me, the whole enterprise was just one more example of how much has changed since the 1960s.
As the great actor Edmund Kean allegedly said, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” In the case of Luv, the KNOW Theatre’s ambitions may have exceeded its grasp.
IF YOU GO: Luv will be performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 6 at the KNOW Theatre, 74 Carroll St., Binghamton. Tickets are $20 ($15 for seniors, $10 for students). Order online at www.knowtheatre.org, or call 724-4341. There is a pay-what-you-can performance at 8 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 26).