By Israel Horowitz
Directed by Barnet Kellman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Marie-Belle (played with a coy bravado by Francesca Choy-Kee) is the last wife of the recently deceased one-hundred-year-old man who – though unnamed – could easily be the protagonist of Israel Horovitz’s new play “Out of the Mouths of Babes” currently playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre. After his death, Marie-Belle invites two of her husband’s former wives-lovers to the Paris apartment where they all spent years with the man who taught at the Sorbonne and who collected lovers and wives like art to excess. Joining Evelyn (played with a stoic vulnerability by Estelle Parsons) and Evvie (played with jilted indifference by Judith Ivey) is former wife Janice (played with clever innocence by Angelina Fiordellisi) who, though not invited, learns of her former husband’s death in the obituaries. It is out of the mouths of these innocents that the audience learns who they are, why they are there, what they thought of the deceased, and how their American views on love and marriage differ from those of their French host Marie-Belle.
Israel Horovitz’s new play is the perfect platform for these four actors. Think Susan Harris’s television sit-com “The Golden Girls” on steroids. Mr. Horovitz is a prolific writer with many successful projects to his credit. This new play allows acting to trump writing with or without intention on the part of the playwright. It is enough to say that with a different cast – and this one is stellar – the piece might not make it past the first act.
Evelyn, Evvie, and Janice banter, bicker, brag, bargain, and often betray their true feelings of abandonment and their mistrust of the newest young French wife who seems to be able to transcend all of their sexual conquests and hang-ups with her stories of openness in relationships and sexual freedom. The exchanges are often quite funny but because the object of their affection was seemingly such a scoundrel, it all falls rather flat. If he was as feckless as their stories reveal, a dip in the canal below the apartment would be a refreshing escape throughout the decades of his decadence.
Estelle Parsons, Judith Ivey, and Angelina Fiordellisi turn the “everyone comes clean” scene late into the second act into an irreverent group confessional with each, in turn, presiding as the recalcitrant priest offering fragments of forgiveness. Francesca Choy-Kee transforms Mr. Horovitz’s magical realism into delightful comedic fare.
Under Barnet Kellman’s sit-com direction – and there’s nothing wrong with a good sit-com – the stellar cast keeps everything moving throughout although when Mr. Horovitz’s script begins to wobble to far too the magical, the acting has a more difficult time rising to the surface. Neil Patel’s set is portrait-perfect and arguably among the best use of the performance space at the Cherry Lane Theatre main stage. Joseph G. Aulisi’s costumes are splendid and wear well dry, wet, or slightly damaged from a fall into an open grave (guess who?). Paul Miller’s lighting design works well with Leon Rothenber’s sound design to complement the setting for this new play. Watch for the delicious subtle lighting changes throughout the evening.
“Out of the Mouths of Babes” gives the audience the rare opportunity to see the highest caliber of acting all in one sumptuously decorated package. How could this not be worth the visit?