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Paulanne Simmons

Just remember this… "Screen Play"

"Screen Play"
Directed by Jim Simpson
The Flea
41 White Street, between Broadway and Church
Mon. thru Sat. 7 p.m., Wed. and Sat. 3 p.m.
Opened July 6, closes July 30
$30-$40, (212) 352-3101 or visit www.theatermania.com
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 19, 2005

"Screen Play," Directed by Jim Simpson

You don't have to hate George W. Bush and his administration or have seen the film "Casablanca" to enjoy A.R. Gurney's "Screen Play," at The Flea until July 30. Although both certainly would help. But this send-up of the famous film and tongue-in-cheek critique of current Republican politics is so clever and energetic, and so well directed by Jim Simpson that even as a political farce and parody of the romantic/suspense genre it still works.

The stage is set with seven music stands, and one of the actors announces at the beginning of the play that the actors are going to read a film script so controversial it could not be produced. But in reality, this is not a reading. Simpson keeps his actors moving, interacting with each other, singing and turning the papers in synchrony so effectively many directors might be envious of the results.

One of the actors provides all the background information. The time is 2015. The place is Buffalo. Christian, fundamentalists and an increasingly fascist GOP have finally turned the country into a police state. People can no longer freely exit the country, especially if they espouse dangerous ideas.

Certain papers of transit, however, have been illegally acquired by Nick (Drew Hildebrand) and only he can provide safe passage to the radical agitator Walter Wellman (Brian Morvant). The problem is Nick is still in love with Wellman's wife, Sally (Meredith Holzman) whom he met during the disastrous Bush/Gore campaign back in 2000. Nick drinks, listens to Myrna (Nedra McClyde) at the piano singing "Frivolous Sal" and… well… most people know the rest.

Curiously, although the plot of Casablanca is so well known it has almost achieved mythic status, Gurney manages to provide a few interesting (and very funny) twists. And even though this is an ensemble production, Kevin T. Moore stands out for his dynamite Peter Lorre imitation and McClyde is hilarious and melodious as the patient piano player.

These days there seems to be a spate of anti-administration shows not seen since the Nixon Administration. Gurney himself did a good job on Dubya last year with "Mrs. Farnsworth." Whether this hurts the administration is yet to be seen. But it is certainly giving American theater a shot in the arm.[Simmons]

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