'Psychology of the Beautiful' isn't much more than skin deep

May 20, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

"Psychology of the Beautiful" is the second Action Theater production written by company member Thomas E. Cole. But unlike Cole's layered and ambitious 1995 play, "I Married a Fly," this new work is relatively thin.

Set at a former resort hotel -- elegantly realized in the two-level art nouveau set designed by Cole -- the play focuses on Charlie (Tony Tsendeas), the maintenance man at the hotel, which now primarily houses senior citizens.

One day a beautiful mystery woman named Anna (Donna Sherman) arrives, and though Charlie, a frustrated writer, has taken this job partly to escape romantic entanglements, he immediately falls in love with her.

They have a six-week love affair so blissful that it rekindles a sense of romance in most of the hotel's occupants. The relationship, however, infuriates at least one resident (a wonderfully unpleasant Anne B. Mulligan) as well as the hotel owner's daughter (Kathryn Falcone), who's been carrying a secret torch for Charlie.

When Anna disappears, leaving Charlie only a brief note, he is shattered, and Tsendeas poignantly conveys this devastation. Sherman's task is simpler since she is not supposed to reveal too much about her character. She does, however, effectively exude an aura of intrigue, which reaches its height in a scene in which she blindfolds Charlie as they enact one of her secret fantasies.

Yet despite building a suspenseful mood, the play's resolution proves fairly banal, and a long phone conversation with Anna near the end is especially undramatic. Cole clearly is more concerned with characterizations and themes than plot. There would be nothing wrong with that if the characters and themes -- primarily the definition, meaning and impact of beauty -- had more depth.

In the play's current form at the Theatre Project, however, there is simply not enough substance to sustain a full evening of theater, particularly one that lasts almost two-and-a-half hours. DTC This isn't helped by director Cassandra Davis' pacing, which appears to be attempting to mimic the long hours that stretch out during a leisurely beach vacation.

Ironically, Cole has written a piece that questions whether beauty is more than skin deep, but the play itself ends up only skimming the surface.

'Psychology of the Beautiful'

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; through May 31

Tickets: $14

Call: 410-752-8558

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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