Forget about the play. Go see the actor, Alfred Molina – this man who is onstage for 90 minutes and lets himself be unattractive, lost and ugly and lonely. Brits do that onstage and in film. They let themselves be not pretty because they are grown up actors. Take Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal. Too bad this was Helen Mirren’s year. Maybe someday Judi will get the right award at the right time. American actors would like to grow up as well, I think – or is it that the grown up actors would just like to work?
Howard Katz is falling apart. He doesn’t see it coming. He slams into the wall and bounces off. He slams into it again. He bounces, slams, bounces, slams, bounces – and with each bounce, his cargo shifts. He goes from being a hot shit show business manager to a man taking up room on a park bench with the speed of fresh sewage sliding into Santa Monica Bay – quickly and not so quietly.
As Katz, Alfred Molina is glorious. He lets himself be hilarious and vulnerable. He lets himself be seen as few people, never mind performers, will allow themselves to be seen. Because Molina does all this, we get to kick back and go on a little trip. We get to slide right in behind him and focus completely on this man.
We feel the bounces he ignores. We see the humor he disregards. We hear the cards on the Rolodex, the name of which he has forgotten, as he mimes using it over and over again in the lobby of his old office building where he has gone to beg for a job. As his life falls apart he begins to cave in on himself until he is not much more than an upright skeleton supporting a molding soufflé of a body. One little prick, and down it all comes.
The play itself is a little like matzoh. Matzoh reminds you of food while you’re chewing. This production reminds you of theatre. With the exception of Euan Morton, there is no other vibrant performance in the bunch. Even Elizabeth Franz disappoints as she slides away from an English accent into a homey Southern drawl, but none of this should be enough to keep you away from sitting in a theatre and soaking up all that Alfred Molina has to give. It’s real magic.
Howard Katz by Patrick Marber; Directed by Doug Hughes
WITH: Max Baker (Bern), Alvin Epstein (Jo), Elizabeth Franz (Ellie), Edward Hajj (Norm), Jessica Hecht (Jess), Patrick Henney (Ollie), Alfred Molina (Howard Katz), Euan Morton (Robin) and Charlotte Parry (Nat).
Sets by Scott Pask; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by Christopher Akerlind; original music and sound by David Van Tieghem
Presented by the Roundabout Theater Company, Todd Haimes, artistic director; Harold Wolpert, managing director; Julia C. Levy, executive director. At the Laura Pels Theater, at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater, 111 West 46th Street, Manhattan;
(212) 719-1300. Through May 6. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.Powered by Sidelines