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Greek Holiday

Mayo Simon's semi-autobiographical play about a marriage in trouble is clearly from the male point of view.

By New York City
Sarah Knapp, Kathleen McElfresh, and Tommy Schrider
in Greek Holiday
(© Kim T. Sharp)
Sarah Knapp, Kathleen McElfresh, and Tommy Schrider
in Greek Holiday
(© Kim T. Sharp)
Plenty of skilled writers -- from Moliere to Preston Sturges -- have managed to blend farce and drama in such a way that we laugh ourselves silly while absorbing a little something about human nature. But in Mayo Simon's semi-autobiographical play Greek Holiday, now being given its New York premiere by the Abingdon Theatre Company, the playwright flops from one genre to the other so vertiginously, it's hard to know which end is up. One minute we're enjoying the easy laughs of Divorce - Italian Style and the next we're embroiled in Scenes from a Marriage. On the whole, the comic segments work better -- provided, that is, you can find humor in the abject despair brought on by infidelity.

Alex and Debra (Tommy Schrider and Sarah Knapp, doing their best to stay on top of roles that keep veering between cartoonish and sincere) are holed up in an idyllic, if shabby room on the Greek isle of Zante. However, she refuses to get up or dress or eat or go visit any of the local sights that he, a travel writer specializing in budget destinations, describes with a chirpiness that borders on felonious. And it's here that the first reality check intrudes: This guy makes a living off such clichés?

Not much of one, it happens, which explains Debra's financial concerns -- a prominent theme amid the arguments to come, once she's able to bestir herself. (A spate of imagined inter-murders serve as amuse-bouches: they're both so annoying, you kind of wish they'd both succeed.) Of course, this couple's issues go deeper than economics: She's on medication, having attempted suicide upon learning he'd had an affair. Their week-long "Greek holiday" has a double agenda: He'll get a short article out of it, and maybe, just maybe, they'll repair their bond.

There's never any question that the script derives from the male point of view. Debra is depicted as a dim ninny, a nag, and a penny-pinching specialist in buzz-kill and emasculation, Alex, on the other hand, is a Peter Pannish charmer who imagines himself irresistible -- an impression supported by the response of his paramour, Janet (Kathleen McElfresh), who appears mid-play in a flashback. A PR flak for a major hotel chain, she's everything that Debra isn't: urbane, sensual, and, as it turns out, too good for the likes of a self-vaunting dweeb like Alex. (The scene in which a suddenly shrink-like Debra placidly encourages Alex to vent about his heartbreak is equal parts painful and improbable, and a perfect example of the tonal problems that plague the play.)

Director Stephen Hollis keeps the action moving along briskly enough, however distastefully. There's not a fully likable character in the trio, although -- in McElfresh's free-and-easy portrayal -- the unapologetically amoral Janet comes closest. Still, Richard Turick's homespun set, sun-suffused by Richard Currie's lighting, is appealing enough to inspire travel plans. Just be sure to take along someone you truly love.


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