Monday, May 07, 2007

A Mensch, He’s Not

Howard Katz, a play by Patrick Marber, who also wrote Closer and Notes on a Scandal, among other pieces, was presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company at the Pels Theatre. This is what The Times said about it:
The subject of Patrick Marber’s comedy of unhappiness about a rabid talent agent, starring a baleful Alfred Molina and directed by Doug Hughes, is nothing more nor less than your standard-issue midlife crisis. This familiar topic gets the better of all the talented people here trying to make it seem fresh. (Brantley)

Yes, it was. It was like The Book of Job without the happy ending, starring Woody Allen’s Danny Rose in a particularly foul mood. Where Rose tried to create a career for his entertainment industry dead-enders, Katz tells them that they have no talent or have had too much surgery. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t go over too well with the owners of the agency where he works. But before he gets the sack, his marriage ends, he tells off his father, and hits his son. Then he doesn’t have sex with a prostitute, quarrels with his brother, fails to buy a gun with which to commit suicide, gives his watch and wallet to a mugger, and either loses or dreams that he loses his last £2,000. There’s also a returning-to-the-faith-of-his-fathers subplot that surfaces now and then, though it isn’t clear what purpose it serves except to provide a little bit of ethnic spice.

The exact order of events is confused by the play’s dreamlike chronology but in the last scene, Katz — sans money, sans home, sans everything — seems to pull himself together to strew his father’s ashes, which he has been carrying around for what must have been weeks, off Tower Bridge.

Maybe Katz would follow the ashes into the Thames since he doesn’t seem to have anything to live for or any idea of what to do, but it isn’t clear. The play doesn’t come to a conclusion or dramatically satisfying resolution. It just ends, and what a relief that is.

Howard Katz was yet another play in which the greatest pleasure was found in the work being done, rather than the work being performed, on the stage. Among the talented actors in the company, nearly all playing multiple parts, were Euan Morton (Boy George in Taboo in London and New York), Alvin Epstein, Elizabeth Franz, and Jessica Hecht (The House in Town). It was a particular pleasure to see Jessica Hecht again, especially in the scenes where she played the co-owner of the talent agency.

Marber seemed to working out something deeply personal with Howard Katz, though exactly what wasn’t clear. Now that it’s out of his system, here’s hoping he moves on to work that says more than “if you’re not a nice person, bad things happen to you and no one likes you.”

Image from Roundabout Theatre

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