Such Things Only Happen in Books: Angels & Humans
Although Thornton Wilder is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning epic works like Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth, he also was a master of the shorter one-act forms, as well, though those pieces are rarely produced these days. The Keen Company, with their Such Things Only Happen in Books, presents five of these little jewels with subtlety and nuance.
First is a thoughtful playlet, Now The Servant's Name Was Malchus, which is based on a character from the Bible who only mentioned once when Simon Peter cut off his ear. In Heaven, Malchus (Clayton Apgar) comes to petition Our Lord (Kathleen Butler) to ask that he might be removed from The Book, as everyone reading it and thinking of him makes him uncomfortable.
Next is Cement Hands, which was "Avarice", from a series of one-acts Wilder began based on the seven deadly sins. In it, the avuncular Edward (Kevin Hogan) is attempting, at tea with his niece Diana (Pepper Binkley) and her fiancé Roger (Clayton Apgar), to show her Roger's reticence to tip; he is assisted by Paul, their waiter (Paul Molnar).
Then the titular piece, Such Things Only Happen In Books, an amusingly subtle farce where a novelist (Paul Molnar), who professes to his wife (Sue Cremin) that fanciful plots don't happen in real life as they do in fiction, while staying blind to the outrageous events which happen all around him.
Next, another piece from the seven deadly sins cycle- In Shakespeare and The Bible (Wrath), in which an older woman (Kathleen Butler) invites a young man (Clayton Apgar), and his fiancée, her niece (Pepper Binkley) to tea; the young man knows the older woman's secret past, but will not share it with his betrothed naïf, who only knows of life what she reads in ancient books.
And finally, The Angel that Troubled The Waters, a mournful piece based on the Biblical story of the angel Bethesda, set at a healing pool of water. A doctor (Paul Molnar) prays that he will be the next to be healed of his sins, while an invalid (Kevin Hogan) is waiting, too. The Angel (Sue Cremin) steps down and chooses who shall be next.
The cast of six is excellent, each taking on several roles in quick succession (Apgar in particular is the handsome young man in all the plays, and Cremin is a fine chameleon, going from a homebody wife to a frazzled maid to a serene angel).
Scenic Design by Sandra Goldmark is remarkably beautiful, a wooden set of windows, circles, and clouds that resembles the geometric work of Kandinsky and reveals some surprises in the end; it is excellently lit by Josh Bradford. Scene changes are all performed to the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" in different live variations, with musical arrangements by Brian Cimmet. The plays were directed by Carl Forsman (1,3,5) and Jonathan Silverstein (2,4), and they both do excellent work.
You'll likely not see a better production of these plays anywhere; if you like Thornton Wilder, get down to Theater Row to catch them.
Such Things Only Happen in Books
by Thornton Wilder
The Keen Company
October 6 - November 14
The Clurman Theatre / Theatre Row(410 West 42nd Street)
Photo Credit: Theresa Squire
- Kathleen Butler and Clayton Apgar in Malchus in Now The Servant's Name Was Malchus
- Clayton Apgar, Pepper Binkley and Kathleen Butler in In Shakespeare and the Bible