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Consider the Lilies

Austin Pendleton has a field day as an aged, bisexual, and dissolute artist in this fitfully entertaining, good-natured but exasperating drama.

Austin Pendleton and Eric Joshua Davis in “Consider the Lilies” (Photo credit: Talya Chalef)

Austin Pendleton and Eric Joshua Davis in “Consider the Lilies” (Photo credit: Talya Chalef)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Fitfully entertaining but ultimately exasperating, Stuart Fail’s unwieldy drama Consider the Lilies is enlivened by the venerable Austin Pendleton’s captivating performance.

Snorting cocaine, swilling Scotch, dancing to hip-hop, and getting beat up by a male hustler are among the activities Mr. Pendleton gracefully enacts.  “I even hate humus!” becomes a thunderous laugh line due to his assured delivery.

Having made his Broadway debut in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, he has been a ubiquitous figure in the American theater as an actor, director, playwright and teacher ever since.

As Paul Harold, a 60ish artist, Pendleton has a leading role that wonderfully showcases his idiosyncratic and considerable talents.  With his unruly white hair, limber physicality and distinctive vocal twang, he mines all of the humor and depth of this fascinating character.  Sharing the memory of when he met Pablo Picasso in his youth is a vivid moment.

A highlight of this grand but restrained performance is when while wearing a fedora and a scarf he goes out to pick someone up and returns with a hustler and makes seductive small talk.  It’s simultaneously funny and sad.

Eric Joshua Davis and Austin Pendleton in “Consider the Lilies” (Photo credit: Talya Chalef)

Eric Joshua Davis and Austin Pendleton in “Consider the Lilies” (Photo credit: Talya Chalef)

Decades ago, Paul was acclaimed for a series of iconic paintings of lilies that were inspired by personal despair.  Long out of fashion, he has traveled from his East Village apartment to Paris for a gallery opening in hopes of reigniting his career.  His agent David Phillips, who is in his late 20’s, aids him in this quest.  The two met some years ago when Paul saw him in a play when David was pursuing an acting career.  They have an affectionate but complex relationship as the bisexual Paul is perpetually imploring the heterosexual David to have sex with him.  Pendleton plays this up to the hilt, conveying sly sensuality.  David however is in a painful relationship with the temperamental Angela.  He also works as a bartender due to the paucity of sales of Paul’s paintings.

This clunky synopsis is indicative of Fail’s failings.  He has a facility for lively dialogue with numerous setups and punch lines that land. However, there is also a lot of stilted exposition and lengthy, stiff philosophical discourses.

The central characters are compelling and well detailed.  However, Fails lacks the technical skill of focusing on contained dramatic developments.  There are extraneous characters and wayward situations that a more accomplished dramatist would have smoothly incorporated into the narrative.

The play runs two and 45 minutes with one intermission, and after several false conclusions it finally ends.  The unsatisfying resolution comes after a major plot twist that feels gratuitously tossed in.  The promising premise and enjoyable portions are severely diluted by the absence of structural discipline.  The potent themes of creativity, unconventional relationships and loneliness get sidetracked.

Fails’ direction is straightforward but doesn’t inject much energy.  The vibrant jazz music that punctuates the numerous scene transitions is a nice touch and is well rendered by Andy Evan Cohen’s sound design.

Austin Pendleton and Eric Joshua Davis in “Consider the Lilies” (Photo credit: Talya Chalef)

Austin Pendleton and Eric Joshua Davis in “Consider the Lilies” (Photo credit: Talya Chalef)

Eric Joshua Davis as David has a sensitive earnestness that is appealing and carries him through the verbose and overwrought sequences.  Mr. Davis is a fine foil for Pendleton.

Wearing a getup reminiscent of Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean, the animated Peter Collier is hilarious and focused as Zack, a hot, new young artist who makes a brief but pivotal appearance.

Liarra Michelle does her best with the grating role of David’s shrewish girlfriend.

As a Parisian art dealer out of 1960’s boulevard comedy, Joseph Hamel is suitably expressive.

Playing the parts of the hunky French hustler and a telegram delivery man (!), Alec Merced is charmingly plain spoken.

Sara Watson’s set design functionally depicts the Paris and East Village apartments. Watson’s lighting design proficiently aids in the shifting from one scene to another.

The characters are realistically represented by Lauren Levin’s basic costume design.

Somewhere amidst the textual excesses of Consider the Lilies is a warm and moving drama.

Consider the Lilies (through January 28, 2017)

House Red Theatre Company

TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 1-800-838-3006 or visit http://www.houseredtheatre.com

Running time: two hours and forty-five minutes with no intermission

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (333 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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