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After the Night and the Music

- Backstage with the Playwrights

After the Night and the Music
(After the Night and the Music Website)
Three New Plays in Two Acts

By Elaine May
(Elaine May Bio)

Jeannie Berlin, Jere Burns, Joanna Glushak, Brian Kerwin, Eddie Korbich, Deirdre Madigan, J. Smith-Cameron

Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club
(Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director, and Barry Grove, Exec. Producer)

Biltmore Theatre
261 West 47th Street

Directed by Daniel Sullivan

Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Michael Krass
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Original Music and Sound Design: John Gromada
Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Choreography: Randy Skinner
Production Stage Manager: Roy Harris
Casting: Nancy Piccione/David Caparelliotis
Director of Artistic Operations: Mandy Greenfield
Production Manager: Ryan McMahon
Director of Development: Jennifer Zaslow
Director of Marketing: Debra A. Waxman
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
General Manager: Harold Wolpert
Director of Artistic Development: Paige Evans
Director of Artistic Production: Michael Bush

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 28, 2005, Matinee

Elaine May, half of the former comedy duo of (Mike) Nichols and May, has incredible wit and a take on complexity of relationships and alienation of urban existence. Her films, plays, and stand-up comedy have entertained two generations of Americans, both urban and suburban.

Curtain Raiser is just what it implies, a brief, entertaining work, much like the overtures or fanfares, often performed by an orchestra, prior to the symphonic main events, an introduction to a versatile and vivacious ensemble of actors, who switch personal and sexual identity in each of today’s three, one-act events. The second act is Giving Up Smoking, and the third is Swing Time.

In Curtain Raiser, Gloria (J. Smith-Cameron), a gay female at a singles mixer, is approached by the klutzy Keith (Eddie Korbich), who turns out to be a straight ballroom dance teacher, too “ugly” to land a partner, too dance-obsessed to sit out his favorite songs. Gloria needs to impress prospective female partners, so she succumbs to Keith’s persistent persuasion and takes a whirl in the bar, close to the bartender (Jere Burns), just the two fringe dancers. Gloria’s friend, Brittany (Deirdre Madigan), becomes jealous, as do Another Man (Brian Kerwin) and Another Woman (Joanna Glushak).

The resultant confidence, trust, and bonding that develop during increasingly complex dances allow for some rapturous moments, absent the physical chemistry that would have been the pre-requisite of the singles’ attraction, turned dance attraction. In fact the ballroom dance choreography of swing and foxtrot is superbly choreographed by semi-professional dance standards, and soon the two are spinning and dipping with ease and glee. The spiritual transformation, inherent in Gloria’s stylistic transformation, is obvious and metaphorical, with dance as the gift of togetherness for two lonely, self-pitying, and unlikely partners.

Giving Up Smoking brings Joanne (Jeannie Berlin, Elaine May’s daughter), onstage, a hilarious, lonely woman on a chair, waiting for yet one more man to phone, while she also waits five minutes and more, NOT to need a cigarette. That man, Mel (Brian Kerwin, Another Man in the previous piece), is recently divorced, lonely for and angry at his kids and ex-wife, and sings with his guitar in the voice of his son, in total conflict. His ultimate effort to connect with Joanne is a main event, as Sherman (Jere Burns, the Bartender in the previous piece), Joanne’s very gay, edgy friend, needs her so much more and so in the moment. Joanne finds that she needs Sherman, as well, that comfort zone theme, ever-present amidst the angst of these alienated urbanites. Sherman worries about his elderly Mom, Kathleen (J. Smith-Cameron, the gay Gloria in the previous piece), who, in her rocking chair, awaits a reunion with her deceased husband, as her illness gains momentum. Kathleen is the most secure and at peace of the four.

This tremendously talented ensemble is able to switch moods and personalities to such an extent, that I literally thought that one previous actor/character was missing from the curtain call, when, in fact, I had not realized her monumental metamorphosis. In Swing Time, about husband-wife swapping, Mitzi Grade (J. Cameron-Smith, the elderly Mom in the previous piece) and Darryl Grade (Jere Burns, the gay Sherman in the previous piece) entertain Gail (Jeannie Berlin, the lonely single in the previous piece) and Ron (Brian Kerwin, the divorced guitarist in the previous piece).

These couples again choose dance, a slow ballad, as a vehicle for physical and emotional connection. This very awkward scene is the weakest, and this was when I began to think of the time and imminent curtain. The premise of “swapping” is neither au courant nor prevalent in this writer’s awareness of today’s, professional urban existence. The actors were strained, and I sensed discomfort in this matinee crowd, as the action was not passionate or seductive. Nor, was it funny or campy. A better “swapping” scene occurs in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, when Kathleen Turner animalistically rivets (or so she thinks) the sexy, suave “guest” in a very small town, academic setting.

What seemed to be missing from these three one-act pieces was the element of surprise. They were all thoughtful and theatrical to a point. Curtain Raiser lost the opportunity, once Keith’s dance expertise was revealed. Giving Up Smoking lost the opportunity, once Sherman’s pathos was revealed, and Swing Time lost the opportunity at the beginning, with the lack of chemistry in the well-lit kitchen and the sterile living room. Elaine May is one of the most talented comediennes, filmmakers, and observers of human foibles and fears. I would like to see After the Night and the Music developed, perhaps with a central dance motif, a thread of music and momentum, wilder wit, and a spark of electricity on these three urban nights.

After the Night and the Music
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

After the Night and the Music
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at