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NY Theater Reviews

Jonathan Walker and Christa Scott-Reed/PH:Aaron Epstein


By David Lefkowitz

Deathbed is one of those plays that piles short vignettes on each other like so-many TV clips. In this case, all centered on one theme...death.

When I'm on my final journey out of this world, I certainly hope my last hour isn't spent watching facile, pseudo-meaningful twaddle like Mark Schultz's Deathbed, a new play produced in the McGinn Cazale theater space by Apparition Productions.

It's one of those La Ronde-ish things where seemingly unconnected (and, in this case, emotionally disconnected) characters end up interrelating and thematically following similar patterns. Here, the connection is death, with a grandfather (Ross Bickell) planning suicide before disease kills him, a fascinated paperboy (Clifton Guterman) videotaping the old man's final moments for posterity (which the granddaughter (Emily Donahoe) will later watch), a woman (Christa Scott-Reed) coping with cancer, and several characters enduring the demise of relationships.

This is also one of those plays that piles short vignettes on each other like so many TV clips, which makes it all the more mystifying why Alexander Dodge would design a set that has to be wheeled and turned every two minutes, thus forcing director Wendy C. Goldberg to add scene-change music and expand what would be a disappointing 40-minute one-act into a 55-minute albatross.

No gripes about the acting, even though ironic flatness of affect is sometimes the order of the day. And at least one scene could be the basis for a real play. It's between Martha (Scott-Reed) and her husband, Danny (Jonathan Walker), who wishes he could be supportive and there for her, but he simply can't. Her neediness and his indecision make for a truly aching dialogue the rest of show doesn't approach.

Worst of all, the whole story is framed with a wink. The play opens with a middle-aged lady sobbing over a best-seller and then sharing it with a stranger. Both stay onstage reading throughout and seem to signal that what we've been watching is merely the plot of that weepy page-turner. I felt bad for the two actresses (Charlotte Booker and Patricia Randell), not because they were incapable or because they had to stay onstage from start to finish, but because I was in the front row, inches away from them, pinching myself to stay awake while also doing all I could to suppress the noisy borborygmus of an Indian dinner. My apologies for consigning them to a fate worse than Deathbed.