Out of the Mouths of Babes
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street
Israel Horovitz has been churning out serviceable plays for decades, over 70 in all by this point, including a one-act called Line that has been playing continuously at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre since 1974. He divides his time between the US and France, and several of his recent plays have had a Paris setting, like My Old Lady, which starred Estelle Parsons on stage and Maggie Smith on screen.
The ironically titled Out of the Mouths of Babes, which just opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre, is set in the present in a Paris apartment, and the walls of this apartment setting are covered in paintings from a motley group of celebrity donors that include Clive Barker, Rosie O’Donnell, and Billy Dee Williams. My particular favorite was an abstract painting by Tina Louise, the red-haired actress who played Ginger on the sitcom Gilligan’s Island, which is titled Questions for the Universe. That title from that actress is a funnier juxtaposition than anything in the play itself, unfortunately.
Out of the Mouths of Babes has a formulaic sitcom premise and could really use an old-fashioned laugh track in lieu of the grimly polite chuckles it earns from a live audience. The play opens with a verbal duel between two women, 88-year-old Evelyn (Estelle Parsons) and 68-year-old Evvie (Judith Ivey), both of whom used to be involved with the same man, a professor at the Sorbonne who has just died at the age of 100. They have been summoned for his funeral by his latest lover, the eccentric young Marie-Belle (Francesca Choy-Kee), who thinks she can still speak to the dead professor from the beyond. Rounding out the foursome is the needy Janice (Angelina Fiordellisi), who has to be kept from jumping out the window. Her suicide attempts are supposed to be funny.
This is the sort of play where characters do almost nothing but discuss their own pasts, and since they are all privy to details from the life of a centenarian who was a ladies’ man to the last they have an awful lot to talk about. Parsons plays in her Geraldine-Page-as-Oscar-the-Grouch mode, putting her hand to her face like Page used to and re-frying some old mannerisms while Ivey tries out emphatic line readings and makes shuddery faces to go with them. Choy-Kee is the only actress on stage who is fully present and in the moment, and the play always improves when she is there to get the other women out of their ruts. Otherwise this is just a little summer frolic that overstays its welcome and puts another notch on Horovitz’s belt as he works toward writing eighty plays and more.
Photo by Carol Rosseg