by Margaret Croyden

Howard Katz


Photo of Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.

Howard Katz by Patrick Marber
directed by Doug Hughes
Roundabout Theatre Company
The Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46 Street
New York City
Reviewed March 5, 2007 by Margaret Croyden

"Howard Katz," the play, is an unfortunate mess. So is the character by the same name. The story by Patrick Marber is about a burnout movie agent who is rotten on the outside and supposedly was once good on the inside. I couldn't help thinking of the old Bud Shulberg movie, "What makes Sammy Run," about a slum kid, Sammy Glick, a Jew, who rose to the top ruthlessly and in the process was destroyed. But Shulberg did it well. Patrick Marber does not. Katz, also Jewish is another Sammy Glick. Are all the bad agents Jewish? Frankly I'm sick of that stereotype. What was the point of dragging in the Jewish angle? To make matter worse: Katz's father dies and is cremated. Apparently the playwright doesn't know that Jews are seldom cremated; Jewish law forbids it. Another stupidity: All through the play Katz drags his father's ashes around in a shopping bag, no less--an absurd symbol of the dead father haunting the son.

Now for the plot: a mishmash. Howard Katz's problem, aside from his foul, rotten mouth, and angry rants against his clients, and friends was unclear. Nevertheless he is thrown out of his job, is estranged, or divorced from his wife, (unclear) is rejected by his son, (unclear) berated by his father, and scorned by everyone else who want him to change, and to recognize his "true" character. Which is what? Besides those who nag him are themselves losers and talk as though they are clued in to life's dilemmas. Incidentally, Howard Katz resembles many agents I have known: consumed, angry, aggressive, vulgar, and nasty, always crawling after the talented ones while they themselves are untalented. And those types hardly ever get fired.

Alfred Molina in the lead role is a gifted actor. Strong on stage with a commanding voice and a commanding presence; his energy is superb and he makes the rest of the cast look amateurish. The trouble with his performance, however, is due to the confusion in the play. The character is immediately on a high note replete with vulgar curses (which are sometimes funny) foul language, and a burning fury. Unfortunately, other colors are missing. And the actor has no place to go except to repeat the same tone and the same emotions. After a while one gets tired of his rage and outbursts and one longs for another color. Which the playwright does not provide.

Doug Hughes, one of our best directors, has done a poor job. He neither controlled the staging, nor the bland actors, or even Molina. That he allowed double casting (done poorly) only confused the audience. Each character looked alike and had no identifying characteristic, so that it was difficult to follow. Is the Roundabout company so poor that it couldn't afford to hire extras for small roles? Or are they just stingy? Molina got a mere six lines in the playbill but management devoted a page and a half to its own history. Moreover the playbill had no pictures of the cast. Saving money? Or stingy?

The mystery here is Molina. Why did he take this job. After reading the press release distributed by the P. R. on the show, I was struck by Molina's huge career. The man's credits took up almost an entire page, none of this vast body of work was even mentioned in the playbill. Why was he not starred or featured?

Everyone in the cast was listed alphabetically. I wondered if Roundabout tried to sell this production as a company effort? Some company! A company of colorless actors, with poor voices who were often inaudible.

Finally what was the playwright trying to say? O. K. the man is burned out. So what is the point? Your guess is as good as mine-- that is, if you still want to see this mess.

As for Alfred Molina--this man is a real actor; he knows how to take the stage; he has force, energy, and presence. And a splendid stage voice that the others lacked. Hopefully he will come back to New York in a play that deserves his talent.

Margaret Croyden's recent book is "Conversations with Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

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