Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Approaching Moomtaj: A Fairy Tale for Grownups"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by Michael Weller
directed by Rick Lombardo

Walker Dance; Sir William Powers Ö Robert Prescott
Kelly Dance; Queen Aunt Noor Ö Rachel Harker
A Bakht Ö Kevin Topka
Fath Cherubini; Fatma Ö Natalie Brown
Madeline; Mawan Ö Lordan Napoli
Josh Dance; Boy Ö Jacob Brandt
Wylie Dance; Sufi Sid Ö Thomas Derrah

Even though its world premiere cries out for a blue pencil (the first act alone plays close to ninety (90) minutes), Michael Wellerís APPROACHING MOOMTAJ: A FAIRY TALE FOR GROWNUPS at the New Repertory Theatre makes for mesmerizing viewing despite its convoluted, confusing plot --- Walker Dance, an ordinary-enough New Yorker, facing various midlife crises after 9/11, falls into a virtual reality computer game designed by his crazy-genius brother to lead players to self-enlightenment in the Kingdom of Moomtaj (only well into Act Two did my own light bulb switch on). Mr. Wellerís comedy is another example of how the attack on the World Trade Center is now entering the theatre through various doors, four years after the tragedy: THE GUYS, recently at the Salem Stage Company, is already a period piece; RENO: REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE, ending soon at Jimmy Tingleís, uses corrosive humor to reopen the wounds in order to heal them more realistically. The anti-hero in Neil LaButeís THE MERCY SEAT, performed last season at the Lyric, wants to take advantage of his missing-in-action status to leave New York with his mistress and start a new life, elsewhere. Mr. Wellerís Walker views the attack as an externalization of his own internal turmoil and balances his inner and outer child through electronic fantasy (if Mr. Weller wanted to be truly clever, he would have had all of the Moomtaj sequences digitalized, humans and all, and flashed upon the productionís movie screen). NINE-ELEVEN: THE MUSICAL is bound to appear in the future; when an overture rears its head amidst the rubble, youíll know that the Twin Towers and its victims have receded into the past, a remembrance rather than a headline --- thatís Time for you.

I cannot predict the length of MOOMTAJís legs once it leaves New Repís solid embrace --- its topicality may render it perishable like its brethren --- but for now Mr. Wellerís wonderfully quirky dialogue, be it domestic argument or Moomtaj-speak, reaps continuous laughter from his audience and director Rick Lombardo, his various designers and a talented cast bring the comedy as close to birthís door as is currently possible. Walker rarely leaves the stage and Robert Prescott, a newcomer to me, pours his all into the part, offering a rare portrait (these days, anyway) of an attractive, flawed but decent man trying to win with the hand that Fate has dealt him and not resorting to violence or drowning in introspection en route to enlightenment (his psychiatric sessions could just as easily be held over a beer with a buddy). I wonder, though, will Mr. Prescott be able to pace himself for a monthís run; he drained himself on the night I attended --- if he can continue to play at the same level of intensity then, to quote an old line, Iíll have what heís having. Thomas Derrah, cherished theatre-thief, steals yet another show as the hipster brother and Walkerís Moomtaj guide --- I donít know how he does it, but Mr. Derrah continues to morph effortlessly from role to role; Nancy Carroll is the only other local performer I can think of who can match him in changeability --- they are also fortunate in not getting themselves typecast (chicken or egg?). I hadnít seen Rachel Harker since her LEND ME A TENOR days and was delighted to renew acquaintance with her as a comedienne; her dramatic skills are put to better use here than in the companyís still-unique KING LEAR, several years ago (she will be reunited with its Little King, later this season). Natalie Brown's psychiatrist reminds me of a parrot smiling over its crackers but she crosses and recrosses her legs most fetchingly, and Jacob Brandt has little to do as the son but declaims well enough as the Tommy-like prince. Kevin Topka, a professional bodybuilder with tongue firmly in cheek, makes an amusing (and convincing) Moomtaj action figure.

I was saddened to read in the program that Lordan (f/k/a Laura) Napoli, who comes close to stealing the show away from Mr. Derrah, is now living in Manhattan which explains her absence from the Boston scene but implies her zaniness will be rationed here unless she can be tempted back on a once-again residential basis --- if not, may this talented minnow sparkle on in Manhattanís oceans.


"Approaching Moomtaj: A Fairy Tale for Grownups" (15 September - 17 October)
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLAND, MA
1 (617) 332-1646

THE THEATER MIRROR, New Englandís LIVE Theater Guide