BWW Review: Dan Lauria Stars As An Eccentric Children's Book Author in THE STONE WITCH

Older character men hungry for fresh scenery to chew will certainly look forward to the day when Shem Bitterman's The Stone Witch becomes available for regional and amateur productions.

BWW Review:  Dan Lauria Stars As An Eccentric Children's Book Author in THE STONE WITCH
Dan Lauria and Rupak Ginn
(Photo: Russ Rowland)

In director Steve Zuckerman's Off-Broadway mounting, Dan Lauria, playing an artistic genius suffering an extended dry spell, spends the better part of ninety minutes, bombastically strutting across the stage, grandly gesticulating and unpredictably modulating his growling voice into sudden shouts of passion and rage that will surely remind many of the late, great Zero Mostel at his most animated.

You can call Lauria's performance hammy, but still, it's quite appropriate for the character he's playing; Simon Grindberg, an author/illustrator regarded as the most unique creative voice in children's literature, who lives sequestered in a cabin in the woods that's decorated with cut-outs of his most beloved characters.

The set-up is that publisher Clair (sharp and corporate Carolyn McCormick) has been waiting twelve years for Simon to fulfill his contractual obligation to allow her company to publish his new book. With the 50th anniversary of his first one arriving, she's hoping to have it released for Christmas as a prelude to reissuing his complete collection.

The first scene has her in a meeting with Peter (a likable Rupak Ginn), a writer/illustrator with a day job who's on the verge of getting too old to be looked upon as a promising young artist. Peter was recommended to Clair by his teacher at the Y, an artist who she curtly dismisses as having had his moment. Her main interest is that he says Peter's style strongly resembles Simon's.

Clair offers Peter a chance to regularly visit the man he regards as his hero and do what he can to get his creative juices flowing again. He'll get no credit, but a publishable book by Simon that meets the deadline will earn him $10,000 and future considerations for his own work.

Naturally, because there's no play if he isn't, Simon is a bit eccentric. Demeaning the lad from the start with his (accurate) assumptions about his bohemian struggles, his childhood admiration for the work of Stan Lee and his preference for Starbucks coffee over his offer of jasmine tea, Simon truly tests Peter's dedication to his assigned task (and the rewards to follow) by co-opting the title of the young man's only completed effort, "The Stone Witch," as the title for whatever new book he comes up with.

BWW Review:  Dan Lauria Stars As An Eccentric Children's Book Author in THE STONE WITCH
Dan Lauria and Carolyn McCormick
(Photo: Russ Rowland)

In the ensuing scenes, Peter puts up with Simon's diversionary tactics like skinny dipping and playing war with toy soldiers, while the author regarded as "The Great Man" talks to his imaginary friends and suffers Holocaust-related hallucinations.

The cabin setting provided by scenic and projection art designer Yael Pardess has large picture windows upstage, where her illustrations representing Simon's creativity and madness are flashed before the audience by projection designer Brad Peterson.

When it seems obvious that Simon won't get anything done before the deadline... well, you know where this is going.

And while the play is well-performed and nicely produced, and the dialogue has its entertaining side, the evening is done in by the abundance of predictability.

"Originality has to hurt," the master informs the novice. Hence, The Stone Witch is pretty painless.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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