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The Oldsmobiles

Richard Masur and Alice Playten lend great humor and charm to Roger Rosenblatt's one-act about a married couple contemplating suicide. logo
Richard Masur and Alice Playten in The Oldsmobiles
(© Joan Marcus)
If Roger Rosenblatt had let The Oldsmobiles, his new play at the Flea Theatre, run any longer than the hour or so it currently whiles away, the great humor and abundant charm that director Jim Simpson and actors Richard Masur and Alice Playten bring to it would have worn dangerously thin.

Masur and Playten are the eponymous Oldsmobiles, who are atop New York City's Manhattan Bridge for a last tete-a-tete before leaping to their deaths. Although there are several exchanges during which they call each other "stupid" and although they each claim they've partnered the wrong person, Rosenblatt makes it obvious they love one another.

By the way, the suicide pact was suggested by Mr. Oldsmobile. The missus seems ambivalent about following through on the plan, but not so reluctant that she doesn't hold up her end of a last conversation marked by any number of flashy non sequiturs. Indeed, their conversation often gives the impression of being nothing more than an accumulation of thoughts that Rosenblatt has had over the years without knowing where to put them. For instance, when Mrs. Oldsmobile wants to know how many acting Baldwin brothers there are, Mr. Oldsmobile facetiously answers, "Eleven -- plus the piano." The two of them manage to keep up this sort of amusing banter even as the NYPD and other factions -- all heard in uncredited voice-overs -- try to thwart the joint jump. (Sound designers Daniel Kluger and Mikaal Sulaiman effectively provide the cacophony.)

The bearded, round-cheeked Masur has one of those faces that everyone can love, and broadcasts down-to-earth niceness and good sense. So, whatever comes out of his mouth is believable, including Mr. Oldsmobile's insistence that jumping from the Manhattan Bridge will bring the often overlooked site long-deserved notoriety. Playten uses her endearingly nasal voice with acerbic delight throughout the work -- and is a particular joy when praising her husband for attributes she then realizes belong to other men she's known. Most importantly, Masur and Playten make the Oldsmobiles look as if they truly like each other as characters and as actors.

What Rosenblatt is ultimately getting at with his delicate piece remains vague. Is the bridge and the Oldsmobiles' precarious perch on it a metaphor for marriage? Is the prospect of leaping from it meant to suggest the leap every couple must make not to end marriage but to continue within it? Is the bridge supposed to conjure the figurative bridging of two people keeping at a marital bond in the face of differences? Is the Oldsmobile name a way of declaring marriage as obsolete as the actual General Motors vehicle, which was phased out in 2004? Your guesses are as good as mine. The good news is that while you're guessing for the hour it takes the Oldsmobiles to do what they eventually do -- or don't -- you'll be enjoying yourself immensely.


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