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By John Quinn
Nicky Silver's dark comedy of ill-manners, The Agony & The Agony, is a tale of lonely has-beens and never-beens seeking comfort in dysfunctional associations. So how come it's so damn funny?
Much of the credit belongs to the playwright's inventive script, his ear for cutting dialogue and talent for writing wicked one-liners. All this would be lost if it were not coupled with the sensibilities of director Lisa Melinn and her cast. The Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company's production is full o' fun.
Hapless, hitless playwright Richard Aglow lives in a tony Manhattan apartment in a "marriage of convenience" with Lela Smith-Aglow, an out of work actress but a financially well off one. Crushed by the stinging rejection of his last script, Richard is house-bound by agoraphobia tempered with an addiction to serial group therapy sessions for addictions he doesn't have. Richard and Lela's marriage is sexless – Richard is gay – so their agreement is she can discreetly seek satisfaction with whomever she chooses. She's snagged Anton Knight (Alan Madlane), the noted theatrical producer, and invited him over for "drinks," another way of saying she wants a role and will get it by any means necessary. Richard has suddenly overcome his writer's block, and is in no mood to host the very producer whose scathing rejection letter was the speed bump in his career.
Hold on. This is where it gets weird. Lela has been messing with a hottie named Chet (Dalibor Stolevski) she met in acting class. Chet is all brawn but otnay ootay ightbray, if you catch my drift. He shows up unannounced with his girlfriend Anita (Mollie McMahon), who is great with child. They try shaking down Lela for a whole lot of cash. Finding that the famous producer is on his way, Chet demonstrates Lela isn't the only one who wants a role and will get it by anything necessary.
Hold on. This is where it gets weirder. Richard's play contains the character of Nathan Leopold Jr. That's Leopold as in the Leopold and Loeb murder trial. Google them if you must, just don't confuse them with Lerner and Loewe. Far from being flattered by the attention, Leopold's spirit appears to protest his inclusion and becomes Richard's conscience and our narrator. As played by Jonathan Davidson, his addition adds a nice absurdity to the proceedings.
Have I confused you? Not to worry; this play is easier to watch than describe. The manic tempo is set at the beginning by the skills of the rubber-faced Keith Kalinowski as Richard and formidable Connie Cowper as Lela. Their comic timing is great. In fact this whole cast picks up cues faster than my black slacks pick up cat hair. There is no harmony among these desperate characters, but the actors make beautiful music together.
Your humble reviewer came away from The Agony & The Agony with a new understanding of how vitriolic criticism can damage the sensitive artist. So before I gave my last sneering laugh, donned my top hat and twirled both my cape and handlebar mustache, I checked that there were no sharp letter openers in view. You can't Google that reference; you'll just have to see the play.
Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company at 1515 Broadway, 1515 Broadway St., Detroit. Thursday-Saturday through Feb. 5. Tickets: $18. For information: 313-408-7269 or www.magentagiraffe.org.
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