"Losing Louie" could be subtitled "Same Bedroom, Different Generations."
Simon Mendes da Costa's crude comedy of sexual indiscretion, which opened Thursday at Broadway's Biltmore Theatre, gets an equally crude production from director Jerry Zaks and a valiant cast that struggles mightily against the coarseness of the material.
In this unhappy Manhattan Theatre Club production, a bed is at the center of designer John Lee Beatty's comfortable suburban setting. From under that bed, little Anthony hears his father, Louie (portrayed by Scott Cohen), frolicking with a woman who is not the boy's mother.
The moment is to plague Anthony for years - and we get to watch in alternating scenes what happens to Louie's affair with Bella (Jama Williamson) and then his children's attempt to deal- decades later at the philanderer’s funeral- with ancient memories of a Jewish family.
And what messes Louie's two sons turn out to be as adults. Each one is overloaded with guilt. Anthony, a quivering Mark Linn-Baker, is nebbishness personified, married to a blowsy, aggressive woman (Michele Pawk) given to provocative, less-than-tasteful clothing. And what she really lusts after are her dead in-laws' possessions.
Anthony's younger brother (Matthew Arkin) is hard-driving and financially successful with a svelte, stylish wife (Patricia Kalember). Yet even he can't shake notions of insecurity.
The two siblings haven't connected in years, and it takes a series of disasters at the funeral to bring the men together in the play's one attempt at genuine emotion.
Meanwhile, a generation earlier, Louie tries to placate his suspicious wife, Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff), who wants another child and Bella, who, it turns out, gets pregnant. You can probably see where the plot is going, but the action won't be revealed here.
"Losing Louie" originally was done in England - with an English setting - and it was surprisingly successful. The action has been transplanted here to the New York suburbs. The change doesn't improve the play.
In its American incarnation, Mendes da Costa's dialogue sounds crass, while the Jewishness of the characters is uncomfortably stereotypical without being satiric. "Losing Louie" ends up being vulgar and unfunny, a particularly deadly combination.
It's been a morbid week in the theater. First, "Wrecks" stars an onstage coffin at the Public, and now "Losing Louie," from the Manhattan Theatre Club, digs for humor at a rain-soaked burial.
Simon Mendes da Costa's comedy about a family funeral, which opened last night on Broadway, is big on sex and sex talk but short on laughs.
The story begins in the 1960s in the airy bedroom of a Westchester home. Louie (Scott Cohen), a lawyer with a pregnant wife, Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff), is having noisy sex with her best friend, Bella (Jama Williamson). The cheaters freak when they realize that Louie's 6-year-old, Tony, is eavesdropping.
The next scene jumps to the present day - it's the widowed Louie's funeral. Tony (Mark Linn-Baker) and his kid brother, Reggie (Matthew Arkin), along with their respective wives, Sheila (Michelle Pawk) and Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember), are home to pay last respects, but a downpour makes the burial a muddy mess.
Things are just as mucky inside as the rival brothers (Reggie is rich; Tony isn't) wrestle over 40 years of festering hurts. Insults fly, nerves fray and, as the play toggles between past and present, we get to know the characters well. Cleavage (Sheila's, thanks to an inappropriately low-cut cocktail frock by William Ivey Long) heaves. Secrets bubble up.
Director Jerry Zaks threads the story effortlessly through time, though he's less successful steering performances. The cast gamely struggles to make ugly characters and situations funny, but some exchanges are stiffer than the dearly departed.
Two scenes, both with desperate housewives, are just tacky. Bobbie, nine months pregnant, drops to her knees and fumbles with Louie's belt. Later, showing how times have changed in 40 years, Elizabeth opens her nightgown to display to Reggie a piercing she's gotten to spice up their sex life. (She no longer wears her wedding ring on her finger.)
John Lee Beatty's set, constant throughout with flowered wallpaper and toile upholstery, screams Jamestown Colonial - if not Perennial Status Quo. Unlike the brothers, who've changed a bit by the final curtain.
Two brothers and a funeral provide the setup for Simon Mendes da Costa's modestly amusing "Losing Louie," the first offering of the Manhattan Theatre Club's new Broadway season.
Louie was the brothers' father; the brothers are only sort of brothers and Jewish, or at least sort of Jewish. Da Costa's play is British, or rather sort of British.
Originally presented in London (where Louie was Louis), the play has been sea-changed in idiom and locale to Pound Ridge, N.Y., with far more success than usually greets such hopeful attempts at the Americanization of British imports.
On the other hand - or, rather, the other side of the Atlantic - you might note the influence of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, since it uses the very Ayckbourn-like device of time-traveling action locked in the same room.
Here the room is a bedroom, where womanizing Louie (Scott Cohen) is first seen locked in the arms of a lodger, Bella (Jama Williamson). Louie's wife, Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff), is pregnant and absent, but Louie's first-born son is under the bed, unseen yet very present.
Forty years later - John Lee Beatty's cleverly accurate set has to function totally unchanged during the play's constantly chopping time warp - the brother under the bed, Tony (Mark Linn-Baker), is back in the bedroom.
Now middle-age, he and his wife, Sheila (Michele Pawk), are making burial arrangements for his father when they're joined by Tony's adopted brother Reggie (Matthew Arkin) and Reggie's wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember).
The play now hinges on such themes as sibling rivalry bordering on sibling hatred - Tony, a perennial loser, heads a one-car family, while Reggie, a successful trial lawyer, has a Ferrari and a wife who drives a Jag - and the popular question of when is a Jew not a Jew?
The dramatic outcome - that skeleton shivering in the family closet - is obvious from the get-go, and the preposterous incidental jokes along the way are more feeble than funny.
Yet the play's structure is adroit - even if some of the gear-shifts of time are too sudden for comfort - and da Costa's writing, given every chance to shine by Jerry Zaks' smooth staging and the cast, is often engaging.
Linn-Baker, his very face a sliding scale of defiantly abject failure, makes the most of the play's meatiest role, but Arkin also scores as the hard-nut of a trial lawyer, and their wives are played sympathetically if abrasively by the gorgeous Kalember and the constantly hilarious Pawk.
This is only da Costa's second staged play, and its promise is such that it makes you look forward to, say, his fifth.
Disturbing news on the theatrical front, folks. As regular playgoers will know, for some time now Broadway has been bringing the best of the London theater to New York: the Stoppards and the Pinters and the Hares, the pitch-black reconceptions of American musicals.
Apparently a new regulation has just been enacted regarding the importing of British work. It seems that, in the interest of parity, we are now required to welcome to our shores the worst of the lot too.
Hence “Losing Louie,” the dull-witted and vulgar comedy-drama by Simon Mendes da Costa that opened last night at the Biltmore Theater. This negligible transcription of a London success, directed by Jerry Zaks and raggedly acted, comes courtesy of the Manhattan Theater Club, which most recently presented in the same theater terrific productions of the fine new plays “Shining City” and “Rabbit Hole.”
How distant and sweet those halcyon days seem after a mere two hours in the irksome company of “Losing Louie.” Perhaps the quota being served here is not a matter of imports but of subscribers. Having satisfied fans of eloquent theater last season, Manhattan Theater Club now feels it necessary to sate the tastes of its less serious-minded loyalists with jokes about masturbation, oral sex and a pierced clitoris.
“Losing Louie” has at least one of each, affixed like gaudy buttons to the synthetic lapels of a time-traveling tale of adultery and its impact on two generations of a family from Pound Ridge, N.Y. (In the original production, called “Losing Louis,” the characters were British.)
The setup superficially recalls one of the clever conceits favored by another British playwright, Alan Ayckbourn, who often manipulates time, space or scenery in his domestic comedies. In “Losing Louie” two sets of characters, separated by 40 years, bicker and smooch in the same space, an airy middle-class bedroom filled with sturdy furniture.
When the folks from the early 1960’s sweep offstage, taking the appealingly voluminous wigs and William Ivey Long’s cute period costumes with them, in slouch the unhappy and less attractively attired crew from our own era.
The title character, played by Scott Cohen, is a philandering dad whose 6-year-old son, Tony, interrupts Louie’s tryst with the girlfriend, Bella (Jama Williamson), by way of a funny sight gag that marked the first and second-to-last time I laughed at “Losing Louie.” Relations between dad and son deteriorate when the boy blabs to his mother, Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff), who reacts with a mixture of denial and accommodation. Bella, who somewhat implausibly lives with the couple, also happens to be Bobbie’s dear friend.
The distant repercussions of this uncomfortable episode can be read on Tony’s worn face four decades later, as he and his wife, Sheila (Michele Pawk), arrive at the family homestead to bury Louie. Dad never really forgave Tony for telling tales, apparently, and so his brother, Reggie (Matthew Arkin), got all the love, the prep school tuition and the trips to the ballpark.
He thrived accordingly, as Tony, played with an appropriate but unendearing sourness by Mark Linn-Baker, did not. Reggie drives a red Ferrari; Tony’s got a Honda hatchback. Reggie’s got the classy wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember); the blowzy Sheila makes crass remarks about wanting to get her hands on the grandfather clock in the hallway.
Mr. Mendes da Costa doesn’t leave it at such superficialities either. Reggie and Elizabeth have a pair of high-achieving twins, while Tony and Sheila’s only daughter suffers from an unidentified developmental disorder.
This is a recipe for serious fraternal ill will. So the brothers seethe, the wives snipe, and Tony drinks, as grievances old and new are aired in the course of an unhappy day that only gets unhappier as Tony’s cut-rate plans for the funeral go absurdly awry. As it toggles between periods, the play also shifts tone, from middle-period Neil Simon in the contemporary scenes to soap-operatics in the 1960’s.
Neither mode is particularly inspired as rendered by Mr. Mendes da Costa. The actors cannot do much to freshen the coarse innuendoes or breathe life into the plot contrivances, which include having a painting jump off the wall so the safe containing Louie’s will can be discovered in a timely fashion. Ms. Kalember and Ms. Williamson come off best, probably because their characters are the least unappealing. The men mostly glower or look glum, understandably.
As for that second laugh, it came during a scene in which Mr. Mendes da Costa’s inspiration seems to have flagged completely, and the characters stand around telling jokes. (“What do you get when you cross a lawyer with the Godfather?” “An offer you can’t understand.”) The one that raised a chuckle from my by-then-benumbed consciousness concerned a priest, a Buddhist and a rabbi discussing what they hoped would be said at their funerals.
If you cannot live without knowing what the rabbi wanted, you may have to see “Losing Louie.” Otherwise I’d advise waiting for the Biltmore’s next tenant, as the Manhattan Theater Club ricochets back to respectability with a revival of Brian Friel’s “Translations.”
Hard to fathom, but the Manhattan Theatre Club went all the way to London to find "Losing Louie." the tired old sniggering sitcom that opened last night at the company's Broadway venue, the Biltmore Theatre.
Oh, wait. The facts are even worse. It turns out that this snooze-button of a sentimental family comedy isn't even some ancient minor diversion found yellowing in the cupboards of a West End theatrical archive. Incredibly, this is a new play, a U.S. premiere by newcomer Simon Mendes da Costa. The piece, titled "Losing Louis" in its original incarnation, was popular enough to have run several months on the West End before being Americanized and reset In Westchester County for local consumption.
"Losing Louie" plays as if it had been written by a student of Nell Simon's "Plaza Suite," and Alan Ayckbourn's lesser gadget plays.
Two generations of a mixed-Jewish family enact their emotional crises, in and out, and in and out of the same bedroom of a house in Pound Ridge in the early '60s and today. The place belongs to Louie (Scott Cohen) and the very pregnant Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff), whom we observe having marital troubles. But first we observe Louie under the covers with Bella (Jama Williamson), a lovely law student who boards with the family as household staff. Tony, age 6 and hiding under the bed, sees them, too.
Characters from the present arrive for Louie's funeral. We watch Tony (Mark Linn Baker), now a sad-sack grown-up, and his blowsy wife, Sheila (Michele Pawk), primping and drinking and waiting for the arrival of Tony's successful brother Reggie (Matthew Arkin, son of actor Alan) and his sophisticated wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember). Siblings squabble. It rains. They return from the funeral covered In mud. They drink more. They reveal secrets.
The bedroom, designed by John Lee Beatty with a tufted headboard and a photo of Louie as a young Navy man, has doors to the bathroom, the closet and the hallway. The doors, naturally, allow secrets and sexual indiscretions to be overheard. The device also keeps us guessing, if that's not too active a verb, as to which characters will come through which door, and in which decade.
Director Jerry Zaks, who appears to be devolving into the go-to guy for the kind of comedies we get better, free, on TV, gets everyone in and out with precision. Costumes by William Ivey Long help us distinguish the eras and the couples by contrasting the frou-frou people from the tailored people.
The playwright jazzes up the conventions with coarse bits of sex, chatter about the relative merits of circumcision, and rivalries about who's more Jewish than whom.
The actors are all fine. But with exactly one new American play scheduled this busy Broadway season (the Off-Broadway transfer "The Little Dog Laughed"), the decision to hand over prime commercial real estate and so much effort to imported drivel is baffling.
From Cain and Abel to Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, sibling rivalries, real and perceived, have made for hot dish. But the one at the heart of Losing Louie is a doozy.
Simon Mendes da Costa's play, which opened Thursday at Broadway's Biltmore Theatre. focuses on two men who, after a lengthy estrangement, are thrown together in midlife by their lather's death. Reggie is the younger and more successful of the two, with an elegant wife, accomplished children and a flashy sports car.
Tony, several years Reggie's senior, has reason to begrudge him these assets not just that Tony's spouse, Sheila, is a coarse number, or that his daughter suffers from some unspecified but serious condition, or that he rides around in a hatchback.
The roots of Tony and Reggie's conflict run deeper - back to the man who sired them. Louie, a conflicted character in his own right. Since the play is set In both the present and the early '60s, we meet Louie as a young man, as well as his wife and mistress. The action takes place in one bedroom, with decades evaporating as one generation leaves and another enters.
The resulting twists and turns are more evocative of a smart sitcom than a drama that graduate students will be analyzing in years to come. But as briskly directed by Jerry Zaks, this Manhattan Theatre Club production offers a thoroughly diverting couple of hours. Mark Linn-Baker's sweet-and-sour Tony is as convincing as he Is entertaining, while Michele Pawk reveals the grit and heart beneath Sheila's trashy surface.
Patricia Kalember, likewise, shows us the spunky, neurotic side of Reggie's superficially prim, poised missus; and Matthew Arkin's Reggie offers glimpses of the chinks in an aging golden boy's armor.
Rebecca Creskoff and Jama Williamson lend dynamic support as Louie's women. And Scott Cohen delivers a rigorous, textured portrait of Louie, whose selfishness comes back to haunt him and his relatives.
Even if you're not likely to find any great revelations in his journey, chances are you'll enjoy the ride.
As a character in "Losing Louie" observes in one of the play's many puerile jokes, "There should only be one stiff at a funeral." The corpse in this U.S. premiere of Brit playwright Simon Mendes da Costa's stunningly minor work is the embalmed Manhattan Theater Club production -- though whether it might have had more life in other hands is debatable. Perhaps there are still audiences eager to laugh at jokes about masturbation and clitoral piercing wrapped in the palatably bourgeois packaging of a comedy about Jewish sibling rivalry, but that doesn't mean they should be encouraged.
A hit early last year at London's Hampstead Theater before transferring to the West End, the play has been adapted from its original English setting to Westchester County, N.Y., with cultural references suitably Americanized.
Robin Lefevre, who directed the U.K. production, presumably opted for the meatier challenge of Shaw's "Heartbreak House," opening concurrently on Broadway, over this inconsequential piece. In any case, in Jerry Zaks' uninterestingly cast production, it appears something vital was lost in translation -- assuming something was there to begin with.
There's a certain dramaturgical ingenuity in da Costa's structure, which tips its hat to the dexterous maestro of interwoven single-setting stories, Alan Ayckbourn. But while the playwright ably lays the groundwork over two time frames for a consideration of how the sins and secrets of one generation spill over into the next -- recalling Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain" -- he seems less interested in exploring this theme than in occupying tired sitcom territory with the frictions between two brothers and their wives, thrown together for a family funeral.
Opening scene, set in the early '60s, has handsome Louie (Scott Cohen) orally pleasuring his office assistant/mistress Bella (Jama Williamson) before a toy truck rolls out from under the bed, alerting them to the presence of Louie's 5-year-old son Tony. Fast-forward to the present, where Tony (Mark Linn-Baker) is now a self-pitying 50-year-old, back in the same room with his brassy wife, Sheila (Michele Pawk), to prepare for Louie's funeral.
Bickering mildly over his drinking and her smoking, they show warmth for each other only as they share a bitchy remark about relatives, "the Perfects." A successful lawyer like the late Louie, Reggie (Matthew Arkin) and wife Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember) arrive in a Ferrari and a Jag, putting Tony's Honda Civic to shame. It's revealed that Reggie was raised by Louie and his wife, Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff), but there are no prizes for guessing that details of his paternity will come into play.
While Zaks' direction is drably workmanlike, he does a nimble job of choreographing the action in two distinct periods, with characters in the '60s exiting one door of John Lee Beatty's single set while others in the present day enter another.
But the comedy is hackneyed and toothless. A writer like, say, Donald Margulies might have breathed more heart and poignancy into similar material, but despite elements including infidelity, the loss of a child and a lifetime of fraternal envy and gnawing guilt, there's no pathos to give texture to the humor. Every time da Costa starts to flirt with emotional depth, he undercuts it with a cheap line like, "What's it like to have a foreskin?"
Much of the comedy rests on Linn-Baker's shoulders, playing a whiny character in a singularly unappealing performance. He's less awkward, however, than Arkin or Creskoff, whose work here is self-conscious and amateurish. Only Cohen and Kalember manage to remain aloof from the general staleness.