Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Knock Knock"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Beverly Creasey

Comic Convulsions
at Lyric West


Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

It's a shame Jules Feiffer isn't writing plays any more. You see his "Little Murders" from time to time (there's a sensational film with Elliot Gould and Vincent Gardenia) but "Knock Knock" hasn't had a Boston production since the '70s. Lyric West is currently remedying that. Feiffer told an audience at Harvard a few years ago he gave up writing plays because of John Simon (the infamous New York Magazine reviewer). He prefers cartooning because "there's no such thing as a cartoon-critic."

"Knock Knock" is outrageous fun from its first philosophical stratagem to its last glorious soliloquy: A couple of odd ducks who evidently never leave their apartment engage in philosophical arguments and a bit of fantasy. Faster than you can say "Aladdin's lamp " WHOOSH a genie appears. And not just any genie, mind you: it's a Groucho Marx genie. Just when you get used to Groucho, Joan of Arc arrives, badly in need of moral support. In Feiffer's gorgeously warped imagination, "an outside patio with a rose garden" beats an inside straight in the poker game of life --- as well it should!

The play itself is adorably wacky, but Joe Zamparelli's zany production still has me chuckling. Ron Ritchell's blank staring visage and deadpan earnestness is only surpassed by his oversized mustache. Facial hair has never been so funny ... and that's no mean feat in a show with Groucho Marx. Jerry Bisantz has all the magic words as the funniest Marx brother,,, even more delicious are his :buttinsky voices" for Joan. His Edith Bunker and Myron Cohen are so delightful you don't want Joan to stop hearing them.

Alisha Jansky gets to be maddeningly single-minded as the uprooted Maid of Orleans; then she transforms herself into a kvetch (and her whole body kvetches!); then she gets to deliver a prize monologue. David Kristin (as the other old duck) turns the state of depression I to a crusade, managing to stretch a word like "dress" into three syllables of precious ennui.

Even Seth Bodie's costumes for the two old men are depressingly pitiful. Ditto for Joan. Only Groucho gets to sport some colorful frocks. Jeff Gardiner's breakaway set and special-effects lighting (for the WHOOSH), aided by Al Fairbrother, add significantly to the mayhem. It's nuts. It's absurd. It's pure Feiffer. If inspired lunacy is your cup of tea, then "Knock Knock": it's for you.

"Knock Knock" (till 22 April)
Massachusetts Bay Community College, 50 Oakland Street, WELLESLEY

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide