“Losing Louie” is potboiler about impact of an affair

Sons harbor envy and resentment and a secret you will probably guess

By Lucy Komisar

“Losing Louis” was a big hit in London. Maybe it lost in the translation from “Louis” to “Louie” as it crossed The Pond. If this is British humor, it‘s of the “No Sex Please, We‘re British” variety, not of the Tom Stoppard sort. Except for a couple of funny one-liner jokes told as jokes, not as part of the plot, this is a pot-boiler which author Simon Mendes da Costa attempts to enliven with a sprinkling of sexual vulgarities. Do we really need to hear two middle-aged men discussing the advantages and disadvantages of having or not having a foreskin? Or see a man and woman offering to perform oral sex on their partners?

The family drama – moved from England to the upscale New York suburb of Pound Ridge — revolves around Louie (Scott Cohen), who in the first time-period, the early 60s, is cheating on his wife with their law school student boarder, Bella (Jama Williamson).

The 6-year-old son, Tony, discovers the affair, and what he knows and tells will be revealed in the future/present. Meanwhile, Bella gets pregnant and marries her Navy boyfriend. Louie‘s subservient homebody wife, Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff), miscarries.

The play switches back and forth between then and now, when Tony (Mark Linn-Baker) is a paunchy 50 and dad has just died.

Now Tony has a wife, the brassy, zaftig Sheila (Michele Pawk). Tony is a diamond cutter, struggling economically; his daughter Claire is apparently retarded and institutionalized. He drives an economy hatchback.

His brother, the well-turned out Reggie (Matthew Arkin) is a lawyer. He is married to the svelte, elegant Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember), and their kids get good grades in high school. Reggie and Elizabeth each drive a luxury car. Yes, it‘s all very pat.

Tony is jealous and resentful and angry. Reggie is playing around. They both carry guilt relating to Louie. There is a bit of mystery involved, which my seat partner had solved by intermission. But it does make you want to hang around just to see what transpires in the second act.

If you are looking for subtlety, you won‘t find it here. Nor will you find very good acting, perhaps with the exception of Kalember who is not as cartoonish as the others. Cohen is utterly flat as Louie, and Williamson is not much better as Bella. There are no sparks between them, so you wonder why they go to such trouble to carry out their quasi-clandestine affair. The Linn-Baker and Michele Pawk Tony-Sheila duo is of the one-dimensional TV sitcom sort, complete with a garish tie that wife picks out for his birthday.

Jerry Zaks is normally a very fine director. One is at a loss to understand why he chose to direct such a crude, predictable play and how he presented it in such an unexceptional fashion.

Manhattan Theatre Club at Biltmore Theatre, 261 W. 47 St. Tue-Sat 8 pm; Sat & Sun 2 pm; Sun 7 pm. Running time: 2:25. Through Dec. 10, 2006. $56.25-$86.25. 212-239-6200.

Losing Louie, Written by Simon Mendes da Costa. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Starring Matthew Arkin, Scott Cohen, Mark Linn-Baker, Patricia Kalember, Jan Maxwell, Michele Pawk, Ana Reeder, Jama Williamson.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

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