Live Spelled Backwards
By Jerome Lawrence. Directed by Simon C. Hussey. A Spectral Theatre production.
At the Railway Club until Saturday, July 3
Live Spelled Backwards is a quirky little character study that must be fun if you're directing or acting in it, but it's not substantial enough to engage thinking audience members.
It's 1967, and a bunch of eccentric regulars show up at the American Bar in a seacoast town in Morocco. The most original creations are The Woman Who Knows Almost Everything (BADLY) and The Best Hustler in Morocco. The Woman tells weird stories about things like the origin of the word pumpernickel. Sandi Zweikaft plays her with the requisite vivacity and the equally necessary underlying seriousness. Fabien Melanson is slyly sexy as The Hustler, a local youth with a great gimmick: when speaking English, he communicates exclusively with the titles of pop songs.
The acting is consistently of quite high quality, so it's clear that director Simon C. Hussey has done a good job. His brother, Desmond Hussey, who plays The Most Evil Man in Washington Court House, Ohio, gets a tad melodramatic and, in the early going, Justin Clow, who takes the role of The Most Famous Playwright of Our Time, dominates the stage without actively pursuing a goal, which makes him a bit of a black hole. But that problem is largely in the writing: the character pontificates, and none of the players strays too far from the path.
There's a nice ambiance to this show, too, thanks largely to the venue--the backroom bar of the Railway Club, an evocative space full of old carved wood and mirrors. I'm not sure how much the resulting intimacy is worth, though. The script follows a creaky format that always makes me think of the 1985 movie The Breakfast Club: you get a bunch of oddballs; put them in a room; up the ante by making the place inescapable or by getting the characters drunk; and then sit back as, one by one, they spew a series of showy monologues that reveal their vulnerabilities. Everybody ends up in the equivalent of a group hug.
In this story, Frank the Bartender passes around an hors d'oeuvres tray stocked with hallucinogens to get things going. The Richest Girl in the World (played with admirable humility by Megan Morrison) realizes that she has to allow herself to trust others. The Most Evil Man reveals his big secret, which isn't evil at all. Everybody ends up loving everybody--just like we knew they would.
Jerome Lawrence's script tends to be pompous in that philosophical '60s way: "Reality is difficult enough to define without getting outside our frame of reference." And the surprise-twist ending simply isn't credible. Still, the playwright's heart is in the right place, and I wouldn't have been able to see that if this production weren't emotionally generous as well. Here's hoping that next time out, Spectral Theatre chooses a play that has both a heart and a head.