Impressive Performances Make 'Nuts' Worth Seeing

Play Needs Polish, But It's Done With Flair

January 31, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Claudia Draper did it. She killed the guy.

But is the articulate,foul-mouthed prostitute mentally competent to stand trial? That willbe determined as a panel is convened at Bellevue to consider the evidence.

Courtroom dramas are almost always great fun, and "Nuts," the TomTopor play that delves into Claudia's past for insights into her present condition, is one of the good ones.

As the play moves toward the discovery of the inevitable skeletons in the family closet that helped make Claudia what she's become, the audience is caught up in the flow of lawyers, the process and dysfunctional weirdos who pop up on both sides of the adversarial table in this bizarre proceeding.

"Nuts" is in production at the Colonial Players in Annapolis and is off to a generally impressive start. When its characters, lines and pacing settle in more securely, the sweep of the drama will become moreprofound in its impact. But for now, the theatrical whole of "Nuts" is less than the sum of its individual parts. On the other hand, there are many impressive performances and moments that make it worth seeing.

In the play, as in life, the lawyers dominate. In the play, not as in life, it's a good thing they do.

Anita Gutschick is brassy and sharp as Sharon Levinsky, the lawyer whose job it is to convince the judge that Claudia is in possession of her marbles. Gutschick keeps Levinsky's indignant yenta persona under wraps enough so that when it does flair, it does so dramatically, not repetitively.

Her opponent, District Attorney Frank Macmillan, is played by Ken Sabel. It's tough to get a handle on this prosecutor. We hear Levinsky's numerous asides to Claudia loud and clear, but all Macmillan does is ask questions. Dramatically! Sabel can make a request for a witness' nameand address and should sound like Pericles' Funeral Oration but, exaggerated or not, he certainly is a commanding presence when the occasion calls for it.

Rosalie Andrews is top-notch as the articulate, especially screwed-up Claudia. The hostility implicit in her behavioral extremes is palpable and when she cuts loose in Act III, the effect is riveting. Claudia's prostitution . . . er . . . soliloquy is oneof the most shocking things I've ever seen on the stage, and Andrewsplays it for all she's worth. She is similarly persuasive in her scathing dismissal of Dr. Rosenthal, her presumptuous psychiatrist.

Only Claudia's goodbye to her pathetic mother fails to ring true but, for me, it's the playwright who lets down, not the actress. After shocking revelations, gut-wrenching emotions and a dramatic judicial decision, a resurrection of some pet phrases from childhood seems contrived; an awfully quick patch-up of a genuine catharsis.

Other cast members were appealing but seem less prepared.

Dorothy Wardell is quite fascinating to watch as Rose Kirk, Claudia's bizarre mother whowas either too ditsy or too desperate to deal with what was going onunder her nose as her daughter grew up. But in her opening monologue, she is hesitant and reaches for lines.

Claudia's stepfather (Jack Larkin) is terrific at the end of Act II when he loses all semblance of control in a frenzied fit of desperate remorse. But he, too, takes a while to get started.

Marty Hayes really takes off as the jerk psychiatrist in Act III, but his opening testimony is halting and limp. He, too, seems to be reaching for lines.

Effective charactersin sum, but uneven execution.

No such problem with Louis DiTrani's characterization of Judge Murdoch who controls his courtroom with an authoritative, yet relaxed demeanor and his "I've seen it all, buddy" voice. I wrote in my program "Where did they get this guy? He's great," then stole a look at his bio. DiTrani was a district

court judge in Prince George's County for eight years.

Your Honor: The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Your stage debut wasan unqualified success. Bravo! But obviously you didn't take too many bows in your courtroom!

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