Losing Louie: Stiff Competition

By: Oct. 24, 2006
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I laughed. 


I laughed a lot. 


But mostly in the second act and mostly because of the impeccable comic timing of Michele Pawk and the mild-mannered humor of Mark Linn-Baker, who give terrific performances despite tepid material.But I'm getting ahead of myself. 


A precocious young girl once said that nothing can ruin a show like too much exposition, and Act I of Simon Mendes da Costa's Losing Louie is loaded with the stuff.Originally written in English English, now adapted into American English (What's the British equivalent to Secaucus, New Jersey?), the one-set play alternates between the early 1960's and today. 


In the past we meet Louie (Scott Cohen).We don't see much of his face at first because he's giving oral sex to Bella (Jama Williamson), a law student renting a room from him and his pregnant wife, Bobbie (Rebecca Creskoff).Apparently, Louie's pretty good at it but their tryst is interrupted when he realizes his young son, Tony (who the audience never sees), is hiding under the bed.What Tony knows about what his father and Bella are doing, what he does with that information and how it affects the family is doled out to us in gradual drips and drabs. 


Meanwhile, the grown-up Tony of today (Mark Linn-Baker), along with his wisecracking wife Sheila (Michele Pawk), has arrived at his childhood home (It's a cozy little bedroom designed by John Lee Beatty) for his father Louie's funeral.He hasn't seen his more successful kid brother Reggie (Matthew Arkin) in years and their reunion sparks the continuation of old rivalries which hit their zenith in high school when both of them wanted to ask out Elizabeth (Patricia Kalember), now married to Reggie. 


Issues involving dad's adultery, his will and other strains on Tony and Reggie's relationship are brought up in the rowdier present-day scenes and explained somewhat in the gentler actions of the past.It's an interesting, well-structured story that, despite a slow start, should have provided a pleasant evening of light comedy/drama.

But then there's the dialogue.Losing Louie is jam-packed with witless excuses for comic zingers.You really don't need to hear the set-ups to know that punch lines like "Kinda like your penis" or "There should only be one stiff at a funeral" ain't gonna work.Remarkably, Pawk actually gets away with many of them with a pure, wide-eyed honesty.If the jokes aren't funny, her delivery sure is.But really, when a Tony-winning actress originates her first Broadway role since accepting her spinning medallion, do you have to make her do Darth Vader impersonations? 


But the comedy turns more situational, and funnier, in Act II, which involves a funeral in a thunderstorm, a heated arm-wrestling rematch and an attempt to spice up a marriage with an unusual piercing.Director Jerry Zaks is at his best when playing to the strengths of his elder actors, who are in familiar roles.Linn-Baker plays flustered as well as anybody and Arkin gives him solid obstacles as the arrogant alpha male.There's even some nice, legitimate pathos at the end. 


There's certainly some fun to be had at the Biltmore, but I pity the poor dinner theatre audiences who, maybe a few years from now, will have to sit through this one with a lesser cast.I hope the buffet's good. 


Photos by Joan Marcus:Top:Mark Linn-Baker and Michele Pawk

Center:Scott Cohen, Rebecca Creskoff and Jama Williamson

Bottom:Matthew Arkin