An Evening Without Woody Allen

1812 Productions' latest is dull compared to the famed scribe’s original works.

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 11, 2010

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Knock on Wood(y): In 1812 Productions' latest, Thomas E. Shotkin (left), Charlotte Ford and Dan Hodge do their best with a mediocre show

Photo by Mark Garvin

1812 Productions concludes its season with the ambitious but ultimately disappointing new work An Evening Without Woody Allen.

Compiled and directed by 1812’s artistic director Jennifer Childs, the show adapts several of Woody Allen’s works to the stage.

In the three short stories and two essays that comprise Without, Allen presents typically fastidious, often elegant characters who find themselves out of place in a chaotic and demanding world.

Performed on a mostly bare stage by a trio of actors (Dan Hodge, Charlotte Ford and Thomas E. Shotkin), the first tale, “The Whore of Mensa,” imagines a prostitution ring of female valedictorians available to satisfy men’s intellectual desires. Ford (who plays a grad-student hooker) and Hodge (who does his best Philip Marlowe impersonation as a hardened private dick investigating the cerebral hookers) are charming, but “Mensa” never lives up to its promise and like much of Without, it is mildly amusing at best.

The show’s two essays, “A Look at Organized Crime” and “A Brief But Helpful Guide to Civil Disobedience,” are even less successful. “Crime” is a woefully thin piece of writing that puts a Jewish spin on life in the mob, while the slightly more appealing “Disobedience” is a decorous look at the history of civil unrest.

Featuring Ford as a Miss Manners-esque educator explaining different modes of civil protest (for example, sit-ins and demonstrations), “Disobedience” is more amusing than the uninspired “Crime,” but the humor is short-lived and Childs’ dramatization quickly runs out of steam.

The most imaginative of the tales (and the most challenging to stage) is “The Kugelmass Episode,” which focuses on an unhappily married fellow named Kugelmass. In search of female companionship, he secures the services of an elderly magician (Hodge) who transports him into the pages of the novel “Madame Bovary,” where he romances the elegant title character (Ford). It’s an inspired premise (a common trait in Allen’s writing), but while “Kugelmass” features several clever plot twists, the staging is so chaotic that we eventually lose interest.

Childs’ staging is more successful on “The Nib for Hire,” which features Hodge as an erudite novelist named Flanders Mealworm. Devoted to his craft but low on funds, Mealworm discovers an opportunity to make some quick cash when he is approached by smarmy film producer E. Coli Biggs (Shotkin). Biggs foresees big money in the novelization business and hires the writer to adapt a book from a film starring the Three Stooges. Mealworm’s determined attempt to transform the broad physical comedy of Larry, Moe and Curly into an existential novel about the meaning of life provides the evening’s biggest laugh. Unfortunately, the abrupt conclusion (which Childs attempts to enliven with a Stooges clip) is thoroughly disappointing.

Allen’s most ardent fans will likely find 1812’s production a welcome tribute to one of America’s most enduring comic talents. Less passionate admirers will be left with the sense that Allen’s stories are far better suited to the page than the stage.

An Evening Without Woody Allen

Through May 16

$25-$32

Plays and Players Theatre

1714 Delancey St.

215.592.9560

1812productions.org

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