“Howard Katz” is the male “Devil Wore Prada”

A nasty talent agent brought down by his own pretentions
By Lucy Komisar

This play by Patrick Marber is the male “Devil Wore Prada.” London talent agent Howard Katz (Alfred Molina) is clever and nasty, a combination as familiar in the entertainment world as on Seventh Avenue. “Du té, du café?” is the pretentious invitation to a visitor. The command that dismisses his assistant is “Exit!”

The play begins with him sitting on a park bench, still in blue pinstripes, bemoaning his fate, which is so dreary that being accosted by a punk hardly registers. The backdrop (by designer Scott Pask) is red brick with Roman arches. A tomb? A temple? Is he searching for his soul?

It‘s a fascinating tale, and Dough Hughes‘ direction engrosses us even if we might predict the ending. Flashbacks show the path of anger and despair to self-destruction.

He‘s so egregiously malicious, insensitive and self-absorbed, that he doesn‘t know the importance of keeping key players on his side – including clients, bosses and his wife (Jessica Hecht). He is bored and furious at age pushing through. He speaks in a scowl. Or he screams.

Katz tells a client, “Eat some food; you‘re like a skull on a stick.” He downgrades an ex-client. “Does he do drugs? He has no septum.” Not that he doesn‘t get advice along the way. Client Ricky (Max Baker, who is fine in his multiple roles) says, “Losing your temper at people is a bit 90s.” But Katz declaims, “The world is a turd, and we are but flies.” His relations with father and brother are also fraught.

Marber throws in some funny lines: “Where can a Jew go to contemplate his life? A goy can go to a monastery.” His chic blonde mother (the skilled Elizabeth Franz) retorts, “Just don‘t go on a kibbutz. They never come back: doctors picking oranges.”

Molina is superb as the self-destructing Katz, making us believe that he hasn‘t a clue about the role his behavior plays in his downfall. Alvin Epstein is excellent as Katz‘s father and also, in one of his multiple roles, as a doddering old man who brings Katz breakfast in a furnished room.

“Howard Katz.” Written by Patrick Marber. Directed by Doug Hughes. Starring Max Baker, Alvin Epstein, Elizabeth Franz, Edward Hajj, Jessica Hecht, Patrick Henney, Alfred Molina, Euan Morton, Charlotte Parry. Sets by Scott Pask. Costumes by Catherine Zuber.

Roundabout Theatre Company at Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46 St. Tue-Sat 7:30pm; Wed, Sat, Sun 2pm. Through May 6, 2007. Running time: 1:30. $63.75 – $73.75. 212-719-1300. http://www.roundabouttheatre.org.

Photos by Joan Marcus.




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