Sometimes you eat the bear...

The Horovitz Varations

Three works by Israel Horovitz
Directed by Tom Burke-Kaiser and Bennett Windheim
The R.E.A.L Theatre
John Houseman Studio Theatre A
450 West 42nd Street (591-1561)
Non-union production (closes Oct. 2)
Review by Andrès J. Wrath

To honor Israel Horovitz's 60th birthday, the R.E.A.L Theatre toasted the celebrated playwright with three of his plays: The Shooting Gallery, an excerpt from Dr. Hero, and a world stage premiere of Phone Tag in an evening called "The Horovitz Variations." The young company met Horovitz's eclectic selection of plays with commitment and talent, with a few bumps in the evening.

In the The Shooting Gallery, a young man (Eric Peterson) is armed with a rifle at a carnival shooting gallery, aiming for the bear (Richard Nahem) so he can win the goldfish for his young wife (Joanna McNeilly). He is clearly more obsessed with winning than anything else. She argues that they have only one quarter left and that she misses the kids, whom she's forgotten the names of. Director Tom Burke-Kaiser handled the symbolism and the askew sensibilities of the piece with expert detail. Eric Peterson showed an astonishing range as he fluctuated between a simple man and a rage-a-holic. Joanna McNeilly captivated as his vulnerable wife pushed to extremes. Richard Nahem as was technically marvelous in his embodiment of the Bear.

The excerpt from Dr. Hero is about an advertising ploy to market dirt. Actually, the excerpt felt more like a skit than a fully constructed piece and was much too incomplete to give a true sense of payoff. Still more frustrating, it was directed with skill by Bennett Windheim and deliciously exploited by Mr. Nahem as the savvy Dr. Hero as well as by Ms. McNeilly, Mr. Peterson, Kimmarie Bowens, Irenka Jakubiak, and David Willis as Buddy 1-5.

Phone Tag was originally written for BBC Radio 4 and although staged lucidly by Mr. Windheim its origins awkwardly showed. In a series of vignettes Christy (Irenka Jakubiak) and Donald (David Willis) and their friends keep missing each other on the phone. It would have benefited the play to have all the characters on stage at all times - or at least most of the time - since there were so many exits and entrances that the momentum of the piece felt constantly dropped. Regardless, Ms. Jakubiak and Mr. Willis were a touching couple. The rest of the cast were equally strong: Ms. Bowens was gripping as the hysterical Jane, Ms. McNeilly effortlessly went from part to part - but was most moving as the old woman who escapes death in a series of chance meetings - Mr. Nahem was funny as Allen, and Mr. Peterson was maddening as Phil.

The set design by Pace Kaminsky - actually used only in The Shooting Gallery - was simple and perfectly larger than life. The lights by Lori Merkle and sound design by Scott O'Brien added dimension to what could have been only adequate.
Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 1999 Andrès J. Wrath