Critics weigh in on Central Park 'Skin' Viewpoints: Mixed reviews have greeted the production of 'The Skin of Our Teeth' staged by Center Stage's Irene Lewis.

July 06, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Irene Lewis' production of "The Skin of Our Teeth" opened in Central Park on June 28 to mixed reviews. Leading lady Frances Conroy was the sole recipient of uniformly positive notices for the New York Shakespeare Festival production, staged by Center Stage's artistic director.

Here's some of what the critics had to say:

New York Times (Ben Brantley): " the production often seems to be scratching its head, wondering where to go and how to get there. It has some definite assets, including a snazzy set by John Conklin and a game, industrious cast led by John Goodman, a fine actor best known as a star of the sitcom 'Roseanne.' What it lacks, all too clearly, is any governing point of view."

USAToday (David Patrick Stearns): "( out of four) The play -- where has it been all these years? -- is a joy, even if its peculiarities can't help tripping up its participants."

Associated Press (Michael Kuchwara): "Director Irene Lewis, artistic head of Baltimore's Center Stage, settles for an obvious and sometimes heavy-handed approach steely sweet Frances Conroy [is] one of the few performers in the large cast who manages to hold onto her humanity."

Variety (Charles Isherwood): "[Thornton] Wilder's 1942 Pulitzer Prize winner is here given a bright, busy production by director Irene Lewis that honors the spirit of immediacy the playwright intended."

Newsday (Linda Winer): "For all the needless bellowing and updating in Irene Lewis' tricked up production, however, Goodman and ['Third Rock from the Sun's' Kristen] Johnston seem altogether right and lovely."

Loyalties and 'Lies'

At the beginning of the Maryland Arts Festival's production of "Pack of Lies," the small suburban London home of Bob and Barbara Jackson seems like the happiest, most comfortable place in the world. It's difficult to imagine a cozier setting (beautifully depicted in designer Daniel Ettinger's detailed set).

By the second act, however, the Jackson household has become so oppressively claustrophobic that living there feels like being under house arrest. This shift typifies the sensitivity that director C. Richard Gillespie and his adroit cast have brought to Hugh Whitemore's play.

Based on a true story, the action begins in 1960, when a British government representative (John W. Ford) tells the Jacksons that a man engaged in criminal activities may be spending time )) in their neighborhood, and the government wants to use the Jacksons' home as a surveillance base.

It soon becomes clear, however, that the Jacksons' neighbors and best friends, Helen and Peter Kroger (Judi Holloway and Stan Brown), are also under surveillance. Suddenly the Jacksons (Maravene Loeschke and Robert Riggs) are in the difficult position of having to choose between their loyalty to their country and their loyalty to their friends.

Although the script is excessively talky, particularly in the half hour it takes to establish the plot, the subtly shaded performances of Riggs, and especially Loeschke, imbue it with genuine emotion. The strain of having to conceal things from Holloway's cheery, talkative Helen takes a physical toll on Loeschke's Barbara. A contented woman at the start, she grows wan and grief-stricken before our eyes.

"It's a most unpleasant situation, rotten luck," Ford's business-like character tells the Jacksons early on, with typical British understatement. The fine work by Gillespie's cast makes us realize it is far more than that. It's a situation that questions the very definition of friendship -- and shows us the pain that results when that definition is shattered.

"Pack of Lies" continues in the Studio Theatre in Towson University's Fine Arts Center, Osler and Cross Campus drives, through July 18. Show times are 8: 15 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $13 and $15. Call 410-830-2787.

An angry 'Man'

"Walk Like a Man" -- a Baltimore Playwrights Festival production at Fell's Point Corner Theatre -- is essentially a character study. Allan Long Jr. sees himself as a macho, John Wayne, he-man kinda guy. And what could be better proof than his recent act of valor -- chasing down a purse-snatcher and holding him at gunpoint until the police arrived?

Insightfully written by Jim Cary and portrayed by Mark Squirek in a seething, tour-de-force performance, Long is as angry and dangerous as a festering sore. His wife has just left him; the foot he injured in his heroic deed may leave him permanently disabled; and his sudden outbursts are driving away the one friend he has in the world, a meek co-worker named Herb (Leo Knight).

Home alone with a gun and liquor as his chief companions, Long can't figure out what happened to the well-ordered world he thought he grew up in, where men were men -- and sometimes even heroes -- and women knew their place. Most dramas show how characters change. "Walk Like a Man" shows the dire consequences of refusing to change.

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