In its inaugural production phantom limbs has shot high -- and occasionally hit its mark. The farce is set in the home of foot fetishist and chess champion Garrick Thompson (unfortunately played by John Edwin Payne as stupid beyond credibility) shortly before the world championships. In classic bedroom farce manner, doors fly open and shut, admitting a spy posing as a translator posing as a cable repairman (Gregory Jackson); a CIA agent posing as a curry deliveryman (the carefully understated Ian Helfer); Garrick's sister-in-law (Jessica Walling) and her fiancé (Mark Shanahan); and Garrick's rival, Russian chess champion Anton Kaspov (Silas Weir Mitchell, who is marvelously over-the-top). Naturally, nobody is really up to what they pretend, and it falls to Garrick's wife, Josephine (nicely underplayed by Ali Marsh) to orchestrate their comings and goings, while trying to hide everyone's presence from Garrick.
It seems that everybody is after a series of letters recently sent to Garrick from Russia, which may or may not contain the secret of chess mastery. Josephine believes them to be evidence that Garrick is having an affair; the CIA agent believes them to be evidence of Communist espionage; the spy believes that they hold the secret to winning the world chess championship; and Kaspov (who resembles nothing so much as the Russian incarnation of Seinfeld's Kramer) merely wants to see them. Add a twin sister who has visions and two more foot fetishists (apparently it's connected to the chess gene) to the mix and you have the makings of comic chaos.
Although the play is ambitious, it also missed its mark occasionally. Both as a director and writer, Johnson tends to introduce a clever idea and then let it go. The writing falls victim to this occasionally; the staging more frequently. In both cases, it was a loss for the audience, since the lack of follow-through meant the play crackled but never really burned. In addition, Johnson seemed to encourage mugging and unison responses from his cast in place of genuine comic lazzi. Finally, the mental chess match which concludes the play was hindered by its own abstraction; while a chess aficionado may understand what has occurred when the moves of a chess game are recited, rather than played, the procedure left the nonexpert completely at sea--and the dramatic impact of the scene and the inaccessibility of the images weakened the play.
The set, by John Hexner, was visually attractive but generic in the extreme; Jason Boyd's lighting design was adequate. No costume designer was credited, which may explain the strange mélange of outfits onstage; although none was completely inappropriate, several, particularly Josephine's, seemed curious.
Despite its flaws, Whenever I Fall at Your Feet was an intelligent undertaking by a promising young company. Audiences should look forward to seeing more work from this talented group.
Copyright 1996 Melanie White
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