“A Spanish Play” on Actors’ Culture Mixes Trite & Trendy

French playwright Yazmina Reza‘s work is curious and erratic, often entertaining

By Lucy Komisar

The subject could be sitcom. It involves a family of women. The mother Pilar (Zoe Caldwell) is a widow who has just found a younger lover. Her daughters, both actresses, Aurelia (Linda Emond) and Nuria (Katherine Borowitz), are excruciatingly jealous of each other.

Their jousting is viewed with varying degrees of detachment, unhappiness and erratic, biting scorn by three onlookers: Fernan (Larry Pine), an apartment manager, who is the new lover of Pilar and appears affably detached about her family‘s angst; by Pilar, who is dismayed by her daughters; and by Mariano, (Denis O‘Hare), the husband of Aurelia, with whom he spars aggressively.

As this is by French playwright Yazmina Reza, it‘s not sitcom, but cultural commentary. But the attempts at commentary are slight, such as Fernan‘s remark, “Actors do women‘s work. They want to please. They are now VIPs. People want their opinions.” True, but not exactly earth-shatteringly original. If such an apercu had sharp edges in France, they were worn down crossing the Atlantic.

The plot focuses on the rivalry between the sisters, one a successful actress about to go to a major film gala, and the other a “housewife,” who is rehearsing for a production of community theater. Or is the whole event that we are watching itself the rehearsal for a play? If that is the case, as the press agent‘s flyer suggests, it‘s not very clear.

The play is full of subtle intellectual games that involve both the conflicts between the protagonists and director John Turturro‘s projection of video on the back wall that shows us a character as he or she is also acting on stage. It‘s always fascinating to see faces up close; it reminds us of the way that film trumps theater. It also helps in this theater-in-the-square when one is seated on the side and staring at the back of an actor‘s head.

However, the play takes off only in the electric interaction between Linda Emond as a woman on edge and Denis O‘Hare as her husband, a teacher and, as time and dialogue proceed, a great drunk.

Katherine Borowitz also sets sparks flying as Nuria, who shows the down side of movie stardom when she dresses for the awards gala in a transparent get-up so tacky that it would be booed out of a red-light district.

Zoe Caldwell disappoints as Pilar, portraying neither the sorrow of a widow nor the angst of a mother distressed about her daughters. Larry Pine, the laid-back Fernan who seems barely to register his new lover‘s concerns, does not seem to fit into any part of the culture, whichever one Reza is describing.

This is a play where the whole is less than the sum of some of its parts.

“A Spanish Play.” Written by playwright Yasmina Reza, translated by David Ives. Directed by John Turturro. Starring Linda Emond, Denis O’Hare, Larry Pine Katherine Borowitz, Zoe Caldwell.

Classic Stage Company, 136 W. 13 St. Tue-Sat 8pm; Sat 2pm; Sun 3pm. Running time 1:30. Through March 4, 2007. $70-$75. 212-352-3101. http://www.classicstage.org/.

Photos by Joan Marcus.



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