It's often said that you should never meet your heroes, since they're bound to disappoint you. In Simonson's play, Michael Gray (Matt Pepper), one of the best celebrity profile writers in the business, gets to interview the famous young novelist Jack Finch Telsey (James Lloyd Reynolds), whom he greatly admires. Soon, Gray is seduced into thinking that the author genuinely likes and admires him in return. He believes that they've become friends and that he's been accepted as a fellow writer by Telsey, but all the novelist wants is the most flattering profile that Gray can write. Eventually, Telsey reveals his true colors, conceding that he actually looks down upon Gray. (In the writing world's pecking order, best-selling novelists always come before magazine journalists!) This sends Gray into a tailspin that is both funny and sad.
Director Brendan Hughes stresses the comedy of the piece. In one case, he has elicited an over-the-top performance: Juliet Gowing plays Gray's editor so broadly that she becomes a caricature. On the other hand, Matt Pepper gives a fully grounded, heartfelt performance as Gray. Lordan Napoli plays two roles, the more interesting of them being Trudy Brown, a waitress and aspiring actress. Somehow, Napoli as Trudy manages to be both shy and pushy at the same time. (Now, that's acting!) The rest of the cast does well, staying within the bounds of their characters.
The acclaimed Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theaters has outdone itself by bringing Sir Alan Ayckbourn's Private Fears in Public Places to New York. And we're not only talking about the play but also about Ayckbourn's company from The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, England. They are an amazing troupe of actors, currently in service to a very amusing but very dark comedy. Indeed, if you weren't laughing so much, you might be tempted to call the play a tragedy.
Without describing the interwoven plot that links six characters together in unexpected ways, let it suffice to say that Ayckbourn is writing about our often lame attempts to make emotional connections with other people. From the painfully shy to the drunkenly vociferous, these characters fully inhabit the stage with their sad, comical lives.
The production only falters in Ayckbourn's direction. Actors appear and disappear rather awkwardly, which takes one outside the play; one becomes aware of their entrances and exits rather than the free and natural movement of the characters. But the direction ultimately doesn't get in the way of the accumulated effect of the play and the extraordinary work of these six thespians.
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