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by Lucy Komisar

"On the Razzle" -- Craig Smith and Tim Deak (Jonathan Slaff photo)

"On the Razzle"
by Tom Stoppard, directed by Scott Shattuck
Produced by The Jean Cocteau Repertory
Bouwerie Lane Theatre, 330 Bowery, corner Bond Street
Opened August 21, 1999
Closes November 18, 1999
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar August 28, 1999
Tom Stoppard's 1981 satire of the merchant class is a rollicking farce that rides along on puns and fortuitous meetings and escapes.

It is broadly based on a classic by the 19th century Viennese playwright Johann Nestroy ("Einen Jux Will Er Sich Machen" or "He's Out for a Fling") in which two employees of an overbearing grocer run off for the afternoon to find adventure in Vienna -- and naturally almost meet up with the boss.

For Stoppard, writing in an era when grocers can't really properly represent trade -- you'd need at least a megastore magnate to parade as "the backbone of the country" -- the play becomes a venue to revel in puns.

For example: "She has no outstanding debts -- or run of the mill debts." The shopkeeper on hiring a servant: "I woke up this morning feeling like a new man, so I got one." The store assistant says, "I'm just getting everything straight." He's holding a pretzel. "What about this pretzel?" "The pretzel defeated me completely." And parse this: "Fortune has smiled upon me like a lunatic upon a worm in an apple."

In Stoppard's story, the pompous grocer Zangler (Harris Berlinsky) is about to propose to the dress maker (Elise Stone), but his plans are derailed by the budding romance between his niece, Marie (Jennifer Lee Dudek) and his inappropriately poor employee, Sonders (Jolie Garrett).

Zangler arranges to stash Marie at her aunt's, but when he goes off to Vienna to meet his fiancee, so does nearly everyone else, including his bookkeeper Weinberl (Craig Smith) and the shop assistant Christopher (Tim Deak), who are out for a rare good time, "on the razzle." In the tradition of farce, everyone runs into everyone else at the most inopportune moment.

For spice, add a randy coachman (Jason Hauser) and a fluttery French maid (Marie-Elena Baldini).

Director Scott Shattuck adeptly choreographs the racing around and moving in and out of doors and windows, which are cleverly made of cardboard modules with black line drawings.

The actors, who in typical Jean Cocteau Repertory fashion are quite proficient, play their parts over the top, more as burlesque than farce, shouting the puns and double entendres, though sometimes you wish they would utter them more subtly. Still, they look like they're having a glorious lark. And so is everyone else. [Komisar]

Theater critic Lucy Komisar gives pre-show briefings and post-show discussions for theater parties to enrich playgoers' experiences. She'll also help find an appropriate show and make or advise on arrangements. Interested parties may telephone (212) 929-1610 for information.

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