AIRDATE: April 26, 2002
On stages near and far, brotherly love is looking a lot like fratricide. Siblings under stress feature in two new plays and a West Coast premiere. Up at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, we have the Collyer Brothers, the subject of acclaimed playwright Richard Greenberg’s latest venture, “The Dazzle.”
Three years ago, Greenberg dazzled local audiences with his brilliant, Pulitzer-nominated “Three Days of Rain,” which was beautifully presented at the Globe Theatres. Now, he’s taken real-life brothers and created their fictional back-story. Of course, what’s known about them reads like fiction anyway. The lawyer and concert pianist holed themselves up in their Harlem brownstone in 1909, and didn’t come out for 38 years. When the police finally broke in, the place was crammed, floor to ceiling, with junk, found objects, garbage, newspapers and decades of other detritus. As Greenberg put it, “The Dazzle’ is based on the lives of the Collyer brothers, about whom I know almost nothing.” So he made one a near-autistic, strikingly similar to someone with Asperger’s syndrome, compulsive, obsessive, fixated, socially inept. Taking care of him, to the death, is his devoted but somewhat disturbed lawyer-brother. And coming between them is a ditsy, rebellious socialite. Greenberg’s first act is endless and repetitive, but the real interactions kick in during the second act, when we actually start to care about this deeply dysfunctional trio. The production is gorgeous, as they so often are at South Coast Rep, and the performances, by JD Cullum, Matt Roth and Susannah Schulman, are first-rate.
Right here at UCSD, there are also brothers in unhealthy relationships in two of the three full-length plays comprising the New Play Festival 2002: “Arrangements” by Ken Weitzman and “A Handful of Earth” by Jeff Hirsch. In fact, there are so many commonalities between the two plays that it diminishes both to see them back to back. Both concern how we delude ourselves and others, what we can and will believe; what siblings can and will do to each other, in the name of love, payback, jealousy or revenge. “Arrangements” even adds a pair of sisters to the mix. Both plays are quirky, whimsical and wonderfully well written, excellently acted and designed, and outstandingly, inventively directed, by Suzanne Agins and Meredith McDonough. But both plays lose their way in the second act. Hirsch’s “Handful of Earth” was so imaginative at first, I was spellbound. But midway through the second act, I tired of not really knowing what was going on. Similarly, Weitzman’s “Arrangements” had fascinating characters and events, but in the end, they disappointed. This is not to say that these aren’t student writers, actors and directors to watch. They are. And you should be watching them; they’ll undoubtedly be the dazzlers of tomorrow.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc