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American Century Theater Serenading Louie

By • Aug 1st, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Serenading Louie by Lanford Wilson
American Century Theater
Gunston Theatre Two, Arlington, VA
Through August 21
2:30, with one intermission
$26-$32
Reviewed July 30, 2010

If they don’t care, I don’t care. And the characters in Lanford Wilson’s 1970 drama Serenading Louie definitely do not care.

They reiterate their passionless ennui over and over, two hours plus of whining. Sometimes the flaccid dialog takes the form of resentments. Sometimes it’s nostalgia. Sometimes it’s regret.

Sometimes it’s distaste. Alex and Gaby are married. They annoy one another. Carl and Mary are married. They irk one another.

All this displeasure is definitely not a source of pleasure.

The current American Century Theater production of Serenading Louie is at least solidly crafted. While not inspired, the acting is proficient. Theodore M. Snead as Alex is forcefully exasperated. Alex, a lawyer, seeks to banish indifference by veering into politics, with a detour into a questionable, maybe adulterous, maybe illegal, relationship. Robin Covington, as Gaby, is chronically querulous. Her insecurities are ineffectually disguised by giddiness. Hans Dettmar as Carl, an affluent real estate developer, flounders when sober. With an assist from alcohol, he bounces between stupor and frenzy. Vanessa Bradchulis as Mary is smoothly insipid. Mary tries to spice up her blandness with a questionable and definitely adulterous relationship with Carl’s accountant.

Director Steven Scott Mazzola shades the play’s action back and forth between vague urgency and blurry exhaustion. He clearly is trying to avoid the monotony of an intrinsically monotonous melodrama.

Serenading Louie bears a generational relationship with other sour-marriage plays of the latter part of the 20th Century — Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, Harold Pinter’s The Betrayal, William Inge’s Come Back Little Sheba and Alan Ayckbourne’s How the Other Half Loves. None of these works is particularly likable. But with Albee we wonder what’s going to happen next. With Pinter it’s “How did this come about?” Inge’s characters are touching if not sensational. And Ayckbourne is always funny and diabolically ingenious.

If Lanford Wilson had never written anything other than Serenading Louie, he would be an unknown, failed playwright. With its faux-Chekhov meandering dialog, Serenading Louie lacks urgency — in a word, it is undramatic. But Wilson has written lots and lots of other plays, most famously The Hot L Baltimore, The 5th of July and the 1980 Pulitzer Prize winner Talley’s Folly.

Now about that title, Serenading Louie. It’s a phrase from “The Whiffenpoof Song,” first popularized a hundred years ago by the Yale University a cappella chorus and thereafter recorded by singers ranging from Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley to a herd of “Muppet Show” sheep.

The song’s central verse goes, “We are poor little lambs who have lost our way . . . . ” So Alex, Gaby, Carl and Mary can be seen as innocent creatures who have somehow gone astray. But the Whiffenpoofs put their melancholy and nostalgia across in three minutes, which is tolerable. Wilson’s kvetching quartet goes on and on for over two hours — which exceeds tolerable limits by about 120 minutes.

Photo Gallery

Robin Covington as Gabrielle; Theodore M. Snead as Alex; Vanessa Bradchulis as Mary Theodore M. Snead as Alex; Robin Covington as Gabrielle
Robin Covington as Gabrielle; Theodore M. Snead as Alex; Vanessa Bradchulis as Mary
Theodore M. Snead as Alex; Robin Covington as Gabrielle
Hans Dettmar as Carl; Vanessa Bradchulis as Mary Vanessa Bradchulis as Mary; Hans Dettmar as Carl
Hans Dettmar as Carl; Vanessa Bradchulis as Mary
Vanessa Bradchulis as Mary; Hans Dettmar as Carl
Robin Covington as Gabrielle; Theodore M. Snead as Alex Hans Dettmar as Carl
Robin Covington as Gabrielle; Theodore M. Snead as Alex
Hans Dettmar as Carl
Theodore M. Snead as Alex; Hans Dettmar as Carl
Theodore M. Snead as Alex; Hans Dettmar as Carl

Photos by Dennis Deloria for American Century Theater.

Cast

  • Alex: Theodore M. Snead
  • Carl: Hans Dettmar
  • Gabrielle: Robin Covington
  • Mary: Vanessa Bradchulis

Crew

  • Director: Steven Scott Mazzola
  • Producer: Sherri L. Perper
  • Set: Deborah Wheatley
  • Costumes: Frank Labovitz
  • Lighting Design: Andrew Griffin
  • Sound Design: Matt Otto
  • Props: Suzanne Maloney
  • Technical Director/Master Carpenter: Jason Beagle
  • Stage Manager: Elena Maria Lower

Disclaimer: American Century Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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