note: entire contents copyright 2000 By Alan W. Petrucelli
What a cast! Matthew Roderick and Parker Posey.
What a director! Alan Arkin.
What a playwright! Elaine May.
What a bomb!
Indeed, "Taller Than a Dwarf," the play that marks May's return to full-length playwriting now at Boston's Wilbur Theatre, has all the ingredients for a historic --- and hysterical --- night at the theater. Instead, the play is nothing more than an overextended, overlong (90 minute, no intermission) TV skit whose primary colors are bland and blander.
The story is nothing more than an exploration of urban angst. Two "generic white" thirtysomething yuppies who, try as they may, cannot seem to get ahead in life. Or deal with its problems. Howard is nearing middle age, convinced that with his birthday next week, "half my life will be over." His wife Selma complains that she's spent 10 years with him --- "and they were my pretty years."
Then there's are those little hurdles life throws at them. The Visa bill is overdue. A policeman has fined Howard $75 for littering --- when it was really his lunch that had fallen to the sidewalk. But the biggest hardship is the shower faucet handle that's broken off ... the landlord screams about the apartment below being flooded; Selma screams about not being able to afford a plumber.
And so Howard decided not to take it --- or his stiffed shirt job --- anymore. He takes to bed with a hand-puppet, box of crayons and coloring book He sings spirituals and Helen Reddy favorites; his wife and mother and father and mother-in-law and boss try to get him to return to normalcy. As so steam continues to his and moan, escaping from behind the bathroom door in little wisps that remind not to scratch too deeply or you'll asphyxiate on the symbolism.
"Taller than a Dwarf" comes sup short just about everywhere. The acting is sitcom silly (Broderick and Posey have no chemistry); Broderick is also playing against type, and his discomfort shows. Indie queen Posey plays to the camera --- a defective Polaroid, perhaps, since nothing develops.
Arkin's direction is misguided and sloppy. (Don't even ask the title; it's explanation gets lost somewhere near the end of the show.) The set --- either a poorly done homage German Expressionism or the result of a very drunken binge the night before the contraption was built -- is a joke. And the jokes --- what jokes? Jewish stereotypes that are as uncomfortable to watch as May's dialogue is to hear? (Case in point No. 1: He on the broken faucet: "We can fix it ourselves." She: "No we can't. We're Jews.") Case in point No. 2 as he carries on about his failed life: "I did everything right! I was born white!")
"Taller Than a Dwarf" is Broadway bound. If it makes it --- and the if should be italicized --- it's certainly to be dwarfed by much taller tales.