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A Naked Girl On The Appian Way: Here's the Story... Of a Liberal Lady...

I wonder if Richard Greenberg got the inspiration for his new comedy, A Naked Girl on the Appian Way from watching re-runs of The Brady Bunch. After all, his play does deal with an issue that invariable comes up whenever discussing that TV classic. (At least it always comes up with me and my friends after a few cocktails.)

The Bradys had six reasonably attractive hetero kids growing up in the same house, each with a non-blood related sibling of the opposite sex who is approximately the same age. What are the chances that at least one pair tried hooking up? Okay, maybe not Bobby and Cindy but we all know there was some major chemistry going on between Greg and Marcia.

(On a totally unrelated note, I always wondered why the kids would never even mention their deceased parents. Wouldn't it have been great to have at least one episode with an angry "You're not my real father!" moment?)

Similarly to Mike and Carol Brady, Greenberg's Bess and Jeffrey Lapin (Jill Clayburgh and Richard Thomas) head a household of three adopted children, all now in their twenties, with nobody in the family being blood-related. Perhaps symbolic of their hip, upper-middle class, educated white liberalism (and I write that with the greatest of affection) their blended brood are all of different races. (This also helps remind the audience that the kids are not biologically related. Remember the days when interracial love on stage was shocking? In this play it's a security blanket.)

After spending 17 months in Europe on vacation (17 months on vacation with your sibling?) Thad and Juliet Lapin (Matthew Morrison and Susan Kelechi Watson) return to mom and dad's beautiful home in the Hamptons (great work by set designer John Lee Beatty, using enough subtle green to suggest The Garden of Eden) and announce they have fallen in love and intend to get married. While the parents are shocked, older brother Bill (James Yaegashi), who is bi-sexual and loves to languish in self-pity, takes this as being rejected twice.

Although Greenberg does insert some kind of vague symbolism in regards to the title of the piece, there is so little in the way of character or theme development that the play must live and die on its jokes. And although there are a decent amount of light and sometimes moderate laughs, the socko lines are very few. Generally, the cast must do their best with quips like "Harvard is the Ohio State of the Ivy League" and exchanges like "You haven't a mean bone in your body." / "Then I must have been filleted." Four of the characters are writers and Greenberg has them use a highbrow vocabulary that's absurdly unnatural and unfortunately not very funny. At one point, Clayburgh exclaims, as though part of everyday conversation, "This is becoming so interdisciplinary."

But director Doug Hughes keeps the cast zipping along as though funny stuff is being said. The comic timing is there, just waiting for some good material. In the meantime, Clayburgh gets laughs from blank confused stares while Thomas admirably flusters about like a straight Paul Lynde. Yaegashi squeezes humor out of the perpetual black cloud above him, while the sunny-spirited Morrison makes for a lovable dumb jock. Watson is generally regulated to feeding everyone straight lines as the intelligent, reasonably well-adjusted child.

Two additional characters have little to do with anything until some last minute plot twists are tacked on. Ann Guilbert dutifully wanders about aimlessly as a confused little old lady who blurts out nasty and outrageous utterances, but her lines are just too hateful and crass to be funny. Leslie Ayvazian makes due in another ineffective role as a writer who never topped her first published work, trying to convince others that she's still considered somewhat important.

At it's best, A Naked Girl on the Appian Way suggests the fun of the mildly titillating domestic comedies that thirty or forty years ago would run on Broadway for a season or two. Hits like Take Her, She's Mine and The Impossible Years weren't terribly deep, but audiences enjoyed seeing familiar sitcom types in situations that would never get past the network censors. There's nothing wrong with a comedy being not terribly deep. Not terribly funny is another matter.

 

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: James Yaegashi and Jill Clayburgh
Center: Matthew Morrison and Susan Kelechi Watson
Bottom: Richard Thomas

 



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From This Author - Michael Dale