Playwright Israel Horovitz’s prolific and notable career has lasted for over five decades and includes Line which has been running for close to 40 years in New York City, Off-Broadway. Though set in the present, the new play is a throwback to the disposable and innocuous comedies that played in Paris, London’s West End and on Broadway in the 1960’s. Now they has moved to television sitcoms though this genre of theater is still occasionally popular.
Two characters are named Evelyn and two characters are nicknamed Snookie. There’s a raucous discussion about cunnilingus. A character attempts to jump out of the window several times. The wicked story of a cat that caught on fire is told. There are surprise entrances and exits.
The refreshingly intelligent and articulate characters are well defined with biographical data plentifully imparted. The dialogue is an expert assembly of setups and punch lines with patches of seriousness. Mr. Horovitz does have a command of playwriting and affection for his characters, but even with these attributes it all often becomes tedious when used on such a tired scenario. Like many fluffy stage comedies of the past, Out of the Mouths of Babes provides juicy roles for its cast.
Speaking with a strong South Boston accent, that consummate actress Judith Ivey brings her enduring talents to the part of Evvie, a screenwriter. As this nearly 70 year-old, melancholy, never married woman who’s had multiple affairs with married men, Ms. Ivey emits tremendous comedic and dramatic depth.
At one point stumbling around in a sleep mask and wearing a colorful nightgown, the 88 year-old Estelle Parsons has a field day as the 88 year-old Evelyn, a former journalist for The International Herald Tribune. Ms. Parsons delightfully barrels through the play growling, cursing, and exhibiting vibrant physicality. Being the skillful old pro that she is, Parsons has the technique to tone it down when needed.
Angelina Fiordellisi starts out as charmingly low-key and mousy and wonderfully gathers hilarious momentum as the drab, late middle-aged and suicidal Janice.
At first Francesca Choy-Kee’s French accent seems too exaggerated but as the play grinds on it seems appropriate for the over-the-top antics. Ms. Choy-Kee is quite captivating as the youngest of the four women, Marie-Belle, the old man’s last wife and the wily fulcrum of the plot.
Veteran stage and television director Barnet Kellman (Murphy Brown, Mad About You and Suddenly Susan) brings his considerable expertise to this production. Slapstick, physical and verbal comedy and sensitivity are all interwoven with flair.
Neil Patel’s fabulous unit apartment set is hung with many eye-catching paintings. Reproductions of acclaimed modern artists’ works are mixed with an assortment of striking ones by celebrities. Joel Grey, Rosie O’Donnell, Billy Dee Williams, and Eve Plumb are among the contributors. The Playbill for the show includes a printed insert with a map of them which is a funny touch.
Costume designer Joseph G. Aulisi outfits the four actresses in a variety of suitably chic outfits and sleepware. Paul Miller’s lighting design showcases the set and cast with steady brightness and with moody interludes. The loud French pop music that’s played during scene transitions is the hallmark of sound designer Leon Rothenberg’s proficient efforts that also include well-rendered effects.
Out of the Mouths of Babes is essentially hollow and inconsequential but due to the professionalism of all those involved it does have a minimum of entertainment value.
Out of the Mouths of Babes (through July 6, 2016)
The Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.cherrylanetheatre.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission