by Pa Rock
Citizen Drama Critic
George is Dead, a production of the Arizona Theatre Company, is a work in progress that has aspirations to reach the Great White Way. Right now it is a adequate play, suitable for community theatre, but definitely a long, long way from being ready for Broadway.
The legendary Elaine May wrote and directed this comedic endeavor, and while the script is funny, it is far from being her best work. The elements are there for dynamite comedy with blistering repartee, but the dialogue never gets turned loose to explore the liberal versus conservative construct. (It was also disappointing that the director did not step out onto the stage to acknowledge her audience.)
George is a wealthy and kindly conservative who meets an untimely death while skiing in Aspen. His somewhat ditzy (and pampered) wife, Doreen, has managed to live her life up until that point without having to make any decisions of consequence. When confronted with the unexpected death of her spouse, the clueless Doreen flees to a place of comfort and safety, the modest apartment of her childhood nanny's daughter, Carla. Doreen and Carla had been playmates of a sort when they were little girls.
George died in Aspen, the victim of an avalanche, but his widow, Doreen, and Carla are in New York City. Carla soon discovers that Doreen not only has no clue about how to get George's body back to New York and make funeral arrangements, she is actively avoiding the problem by watching Andy Griffith reruns and worrying about whether Aunt Bee is still alive or not.
Carla's ultra-liberal husband, Michael, storms into the apartment and quickly out again as he comes to the realization that his wife has taken in a homeless and witless millionaire. Carla stays up all night making funeral arrangements for George, while Doreen lies curled up to the couch watching television and singing along with theme songs from the sixties.
And that, sadly, comprised most of the action.
This play has a clever plot with a distinct possibility of raucous hilarity, but it just never happens. The dialogue was inexplicably tepid considering it came from the pen of a true comic genius, and the action dragged. There is a scene in a car where George is being chauffeured to the airport so that he can get on his private plane and fly to Aspen. He discusses life, and love, and politics with his young driver who is a native of the Dominican Republic. The scene made no sense other than to highlight the fact that George is a compassionate conservative who truly loves his wife - all of which could have been handled elsewhere in the production - and some of it was. Yet the scene went on...and on...and on! I felt bad for the two actors who had to plod through all of that useless verbiage and try to make it relevant to the audience.
George was played by Don Murray, a distinguished senior citizen who received an Academy Award nomination in 1957 for playing the rodeo cowboy, Bo Decker, in Bus Stop, opposite screen goddess Marilyn Monroe. (Which, considering that I sat fifteen feet from Don Murray - 3rd row center - gives me one degree of separation from Marilyn!) His performance was somewhat lackluster, but his talent was buried under stilted dialogue, much like his character was buried under an avalanche in Aspen.
Marlo Thomas celebrated her seventy-second birthday last night playing the role of Doreen. Thomas is a skilled actress and was invested in her role, but the magic just was not there. (And speaking of not there, if Phil Donahue was in the house for his wife's birthday, he must have been watching from backstage. He was nowhere to be seen on my side of the curtain!)
The only standout performance was San Francisco actress Julia Brothers who shined in the role of Carla. Brothers' comic timing and flawless double-takes made Carla the most humorous and sympathetic character of the production. Watching her deal with the sad and silly Doreen was the best part of the evening.
George is Dead made for an entertaining evening, though I certainly felt that it could have delivered more considering the fame of the playwright and director, and the talent assembled on the stage. The kindling was there, but it just never ignited. The word is out, I fear, because there were many empty seats at last night's performance including four next to me on the third row. (It was a Saturday in downtown Phoenix without significant competition from any other major cultural events - or sporting activities.) And the curtain came down without the almost obligatory standing ovation.
Elaine, your play is muddled. If you need help fixing it, I know a young playwright in Kansas City that could jump in and help you out!