Eighty-eight year-old Evelyn (Estelle Parsons), having arrived from the states for her ex-husband’s funeral, is bivouacking in the Paris loft they shared. Unexpectedly joined by 68 year-old Evvie (Judith Ivey), the woman she (kind of) blames for the dissolution of her marriage and who succeeded her, eyebrows arch, her tongue darts. Evvie is just as shocked as her unwitting flat mate. Both have been sent airline tickets and keys. They circle one another like gladiators, or would, if they weren’t so exhausted.
The women share biting wit, antagonism, and memories. Evelyn, wed in the 1950s, was #2. Evvie, who preferred married men so she’d never have to take the plunge, remained single, but became a third longtime mate through the 1960s. Both are aware that #1, known only as Snooky, committed suicide by taking a flyer out the window of the room in which they now sit. “He” (unnamed) discussed his women with their heirs. Notes are compared in proprietary fashion.
Estelle Parsons, Judith Ivey, Angelina Fiordellisi
Just as they’re getting down to it, #4, Janice (Angelina Fiordellisi), likely in her fifties, enters her former home. The only one without an ‘invitation,’ she evidently kept her key. Janice read the obit in Le Monde. Unlike the others, she seems to know little about her husband’s past.
Janice is a manic depressive who attempted suicide out a window to the right of Snooky’s choice. Imagine Eeyore in extremis. Even now, she gravitates toward the ersatz exit with seemingly little provocation, creating an ongoing sight gag which, despite chestnut status, is mostly funny. She herself has no sense of humor. (If you’re keeping score, #5, Maxine, followed Janice. Of course, none of us know the full roster.)
Judith Ivey, Angelina Fiordellisi, Estelle Parsons
A succession of overlapping, increasingly younger students from his Sorbonne classes found the dead man smart, charismatic, and a great lover. Each of those assembled, wandering in and out of commandeered bedrooms unable to sleep, recalls appealingly quirky events that haunt. Jealousy and recognition ride tandem.
Wait – is anyone Jewish? There’s a sheet covering the mirror. No. They take it off. “This is weird. It’s the same mirror as when I lived here,” Evvie comments, startled. “How did my mother get in there?!” Playwright Israel Horovitz writes old school humor with veteran flair. He also “gets” women, describing our fears, illusions, and age-explicit hopes with warmth and insight, eschewing rose colored glasses.
Judith Ivey, Estelle Parsons
All four freeze when yet another key turns in the lock. Marie-Belle (Francesca Choy-Kee), the pretty, young French/Senegalese with whom he spent his last years, enters like a breath of fresh air. Though over 60 years apart, the 100 year-old man was in her arms when he died. In bed. Active. (Choy-Lee, who appears to emanate light, does not, unfortunately, look to be in her 40s.)
“They” decided to gather the women he loved, who loved him. Marie-Belle still talks to him. In fact, the two continue to physically, even sexually interact. Evelyn and Evvie think she’s nice but crackers, while Janice wants to believe. There’s a funeral, of course, some game vaudeville slapstick, and an ending you won’t anticipate.
Judith Ivey, Angelina Fiordellisi, Estelle Parsons, Francesca Choy-Kee
Out of the Mouths of Babes is apparently the second in a Paris Trilogy. The first was My Old Lady, a revival of which starred Estelle Parsons in 2015. We look forward to the third.
Director Barnett Kellman has an eye for comedy that extends from realism to shtick. His cast uses the stage with variety, specificity and finesse. Timing is wonderful. My only caveat is Marie-Belle’s “zis, zat Hollywood Franglais,” which never sounds like a legitimate second language.
Francesca Choy-Kee’s actual French is excellent. Bright-eyed and infectiously optimistic without regressing into airy/fairy, the actress otherwise inhabits her character.
Angelina Fiordellisi (Janice), Producing Artistic Director of The Cherry Lane Theatre, swings from deadpan funny to sometimes just being present. She doesn’t quite make enough of things.
In the capable hands of Estelle Parsons (Evelyn) and Judith Ivey (Evvie) for whom the piece was commissioned (the first commission Horovitz accepted in a career of some 70 plus plays), every pause, look and gesture lands on target. Voices, even rhythms couldn’t be more authentic. It’s also a pleasure to see the two playing close to their own, attractive ages. Both actresses are completely natural, exuding warmth, femininity, and smarts. Cynicism falls trippingly off the tongue. Aim is true. Scenes together are like a graceful tennis match, competition with respect and appreciation.
Neil Patel (Scenic Design) has outdone himself with art on the loft’s two story walls. There’s a chart in your program. Only missing a view of the Seine, the place feels right.
Joseph G. Aulisi’s Costume Design reflects and flatters each personality it attires. Attention to detail includes a stagehand wearing a beret and between scene French pop music.
Photography by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Angelina Fiordellisi, Francesca Choy-Kee, Judith Ivey, Estelle Parsons
Out of the Mouths of Babes by Israel Horovitz
Directed by Barnet Kellman
The Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street
through July 31, 2016