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‘Downstairs,’ a Sanguine Thriller Starring Tyne Daly and Tim Daly

Tim Daly, Tyne Daly, Primary Stages, Theresa Rebeck, Downstairs, Adrienne Campbell-Hold, Cherry Lane Theatre

Tim Daly, Tyne Daly in Primary Stages’ production of Theresa Rebeck’s ‘Downstairs,’ directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt (James Leynse)

Theresa Rebeck’s Downstairs is a hybrid drama-mystery, a thriller with sly, humorous overtones. As usual the playwright’s particular and complex characterizations startle with their humanity and angst. And the myriad themes that Rebeck tackles in Downstairs reverberate with currency.

Directed with acute precision and depth by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, and starring siblings Tyne Daly and Tim Daly as well as John Procaccino, Downstairs is a tour-de-force about relationships, wickedness masking as truth, second chances, hope, and the interior and unseen ebb and flow that happens in all evolving souls.

Written especially for the Daly siblings, the play exudes cleverness and wry import. She opens the intriguing story on the trash-heap of an unfinished basement, a workshop cellar with a couch and a few tables. Teddy (Tim Daly’s strikingly alive portrayal uplifts with power) emerges from the bathroom. As he carries on with the morning ritual of waking up, making coffee, and brushing his teeth, we understand that he has slept in the basement and is perhaps living there. Then Irene (the exquisitely versatile Tyne Daly, who is just extraordinary in this portrayal of the mousey, oppressed wife) comes down the basement steps and confronts him. She attempts to understand why he needs to be staying in their cellar.

From their conversation Rebeck reveals their prior estrangement and background circumstances since their mother died some years before. Notably, the forthright Teddy reveals his upset that their mother left Irene with the inheritance, which he deems unfair. They fill their discussion with questions that neither quite answers. Irene refuses to discuss how Teddy became disinherited. This exchange unsettles us. Their tense interplay appears shows us siblings who at this juncture cannot be described as showing good will toward each other.

Tim Daly, Tyne Daly, Downstairs, Theresa Rebeck, Adrienne Campbell-Holt

Tyne Daly, Tim Daly in ‘Downstairs’ presented by Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York. The play, by Theresa Rebeck is directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt and also features John Procaccino (not pictured) (photo by James Leynse)

Nevertheless, as they continue Teddy discloses that he has been poisoned by malevolent people at work. His truthful admission, though bizarre, opens Irene’s heart. She shifts from being defensive to accepting her brother’s plight and wanting to help him.

Throughout these initial exchanges, we make assumptions about Teddy’s mental and emotional condition and life’s circumstances. Evasive and scattered, he appears to have suffered a breakdown. Surely, he faces a crossroads in his life, especially if his sanity remains in question. But the brilliance of Downstairs is that nothing is what it appears to be. Neither the situation, the characters, nor the development of the conflicts play out the way we anticipate. Rebeck takes us for a dangerous ride fraught with suspense which remains far from the mundane family story we thought we had signed up for.

For example, the reconciliation between Irene and Teddy after their mother died is anything but mundane. Irene’s marriage and financial situation, which initially appear comfortable, normal, and steady, are a deception for numerous reasons that Rebeck reveals with adroit, painstaking details of characterization. We become enlightened about Teddy’s erratic “craziness” and quirky genius. And the estranged relationship between the siblings has little to do with each of them. Indeed, as the present veneers slip away and they connect with their deeper emotions, we discover the real culprit of their alienation.

Their inner emotions drive the energy and action. The actors craft their portrayals so carefully and sensitively, we identify and hope for Irene and Teddy. As they confess their truths to each other, Teddy listens and supports Irene’s confrontation of the lies within herself so she may heal. In her evolution, enlightenment, self-deception, and growth, Tyne Daly’s Irene soars. Her gradual empowerment with Teddy’s help thrills and engages us. Tim Daly’s Teddy displays individuality, bravery, and truth that can call down deception, corruption, and evil, uplifting us. Together, they beautifully manifest their eventual understanding that the ties that once bound them can be reconstituted. And this is so even though the world and the wicked have worked overtime to break their spirits and wreck their souls.

Tim Daly, Tyne Daly, Theresa Rebeck, Adrienne Campbell-Holt, Primary Stages, Cherry Lane Theatre

Siblings Tim Daly, Tyne Daly in ‘Downstairs,’ written by Theresa Rebeck, directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, presented by Primary Stages, Cherry Lane Theatre (James Leynse)

John Procaccino’s amazing portrayal of Gerry, Irene’s husband, creates the perfect foil for Irene and Teddy. He inhabits Gerry with sensitivity, finding the character’s motivation without going for result. Procaccino’s mastery of Gerry’s sinister presence is authentic and believable. This is not a spoiler. You will just have to see Downstairs to marvel at how these superlative actors work together to breathe life into Irene, Teddy, and Gerry.

In this wonderful production, the unexpected peeks around the corner of every scene. By degrees the story goes through many turns and twists. The more the truth of Irene’s marriage is revealed to her by Teddy, the more open she becomes with her brother and he with her. Rebeck gradually unfolds the mysteries. In the last scenes we finally understand what has separated them from the love they once held for each other.

Throughout this tautly suspenseful work, the playwright captures seminal themes. These include women’s empowerment, familial love, the vitality of childhood bonds, and the saving grace of compassion and goodness. There are numerous messages that echo for us today in the cultural morass between reality and fabrication, truth and lies, visibility and invisibility. I especially enjoyed the moment-to-moment, slow reveal of the struggle between good and evil, enlightenment and cover-up, and the extent to which we betray ourselves with self-deception. The title symbolizes and brings together many of these rich them

Downstairs is a must-see for the sterling performances and for Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s directorial craft. Each of these sends you to the edge of your seat and equally touches your heart. Look for the profundities that will wash over you long after you have left the Cherry Lane Theatre. Kudos also go to Narelle Sissons (Set Design), Sarah Laux (Costume Design), Michael Giannitti (Lighting Design), M.L. Dogg (Sound Design), and Leah Loukas (Wig Design).

Downstairs, a Primary Stages presentation, runs through 22 December at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Tickets are available online

 

‘The Tribute Artist’ at 59E59 Theaters

L to R: Cynthia Harris and Charles Busch in The Tribute Artist by Charles Bush, Directed by Carl Andress, presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

L to R: Cynthia Harris and Charles Busch in The Tribute Artist by Charles Bush, Directed by Carl Andress, presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

Buying and selling Manhattan real estate! It’s all about being in the right place at the right time with the right clients. If the opportunity to sign a deal on a most fabulous place in Greenwich Village just dropped in your lap, you’d probably leap at it. What if it involved a smidgeon of shadiness and a soupcon of fraud?

The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch presents a hilarious scenario of three rather desperate, down on their luck characters, one attractive and potentially nefarious thief, and a $12 million dollar townhouse whose owner has recently died. From soup to nuts, this two act play is a cleverly written comedy that is beautifully acted by the ensemble cast and tightly directed by Carl Andress. Charles Busch, a Drama Desk Award winner for “Career Achievement as Playwright and Performer,” once again delights with his impeccable timing and comic genius in a play that skirts the edges of farce. The Tribute Artist’s trending humor, themes, and ironies are incisive and just shy of brilliant.

The play opens to the sumptuous living room of a Greenwich Village townhouse where we meet grand dame Adriana (the lively and funny Cynthia Harris), the homeowner. We appreciate Adriana’s sulfuric wit which she states, “is not nastiness, but my European sense of irony.” This “upper crust” lady is a former clothing designer and she is entertaining her down-to-earth and frenetic real estate broker, Rita (the excellent Julie Halston), who may or may not broker the townhouse sale. Jimmy (Charles Busch), a recently fired Las Vegas drag queen, who prefers to be called a “celebrity tribute artist,” is staying with Adriana for a while. When we are introduced to Rita and Jimmy, both are modeling Adriana’s designer clothing, and Jimmy is modeling one of her wigs. Rita and Jimmy have been long time friends. They enjoy Adriana’s hospitality as she fills in details from her past which, unbeknownst to them, are portentous to their future. When they all fall asleep from rather too much drink, the scene shifts to morning and the comedy and plot complications jolt into the most interesting of wonderful possibilities.

L to R: Keira Keeley, Charles Busch, Julie Halston, Mary Bacon, Jonathan Walker in The Tribute Artist, directed by Carl Andress for Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

L to R: Keira Keeley, Charles Busch, Julie Halston, Mary Bacon, Jonathan Walker in The Tribute Artist, directed by Carl Andress for Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

During the night, Adriana has passed; she did say she was dying, but Jimmy and Rita didn’t believe her. No one will inherit this lovely house and it will end up in the hands of the government since there are no inheritors and no will. The path appears to be clear that Adriana wants the house sold and is exerting her will that this should be exacted by those who are present. They are a perfect combination: a real estate broker and a female impersonator who just happens to have in his repertoire all the greats from Marilyn Monroe to Betty Davis. Impersonating “Adriana” will be easy.  Jimmy and Rita talk themselves into the devilish plan (a hilarious segue), plotting that Jimmy will become Adriana for the time it takes Rita to sell the house. In the clear, they will split their “winnings” fifty/fifty. They even have the perfect resolution for how to deal with Adriana’s remains. Through their euphoria, they both agree that they may have forgotten something, only they aren’t sure what.

What they’ve forgotten shows up in the next scenes, creates havoc, and additional conundrums. The plot complications humorously involve the real heirs who will take the townhouse away from Rita and Jimmy. The inheritors are Adriana’s late husband’s loathsome relatives, niece Christina (a perfectly overwrought Mary Bacon) and grandniece Rachel Oliver (a fine Keira Keeley). An additional complication involves one of Adriana’s former lovers, the sexy Rodney (Jonathan Walker in a hysterical performance). Somehow Rita and Jimmy deal with these “interlopers” and Jimmy’s impersonation of Adriana goes swimmingly for a time until Rodney throws the switch that could overturn their peaceful coexistence. Once again the elements of farce are stepped up with the added suspense that Rodney may be up to something worse than the “silly little fraud” that Rita and Jimmy had hoped to commit.

Charles Busch in The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch, directed by Carl Andress for Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

Charles Busch in The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch, directed by Carl Andress for Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

While spinning these humorous events, the playwright carefully weaves in issues of class, gender, identity, and social injustice. He does this with wit and subtle undercurrents of poignancy in keeping with the comedic pacing. Added to the glee, Jimmy unleashes his repertoire of old-time celebrity actresses with snippets of dialogue from their most famous scenes. Rosalyn Russel, Katherine Hepburn, Betty Davis, and others show up and aptly spout “wisdom” to heighten the madness. In his impersonations Busch is at the apex of his powers. His “Running Wild” is superb. If you don’t know which actress performed the song from which iconic film, then you’ll have to get yourself to 59E59 Theaters where the production is being performed. Rita will clue you in to the impersonations just in case you were born after 1990.

The playwright ties up all the complications and reveals the inner workings of each character reinforcing one of the main themes: one never knows how things will turn out in the end. In Busch’s iteration the phrasing is more poetic. The production will be running until March 16th. It is being presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics.

The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch

L to R: Cynthia Harris and Charles Busch in The Tribute Artist by Charles, presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leyenes

L to R: Cynthia Harris and Charles Busch in The Tribute Artist by Charles, presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

Buying and selling Manhattan real estate! It’s all about being in the right place at the right time with the right clients. If the opportunity to sign a deal on a most fabulous place in Greenwich Village just dropped in your lap, you’d probably leap at it. What if it involved a smidgeon of shadiness and a soupcon of fraud?

The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch presents a hilarious scenario of three rather desperate, down on their luck characters, one attractive and potentially nefarious thief, and a $12 million dollar townhouse whose occupant has recently died. From soup to nuts, this two act play is a cleverly written comedy that is beautifully acted by the ensemble cast and tightly directed by Carl Andress. Charles Busch, a Drama Desk Award winner  for “Career Achievement as Playwright and Performer,” once again delights with his impeccable timing and comic genius in a play that skirts the edges of farce. The Tribute Artist’s trending humor, themes and ironies are incisive and just shy of brilliant.

The play opens to the sumptuous living room of a Greenwich Village townhouse where we meet grand dame Adriana (the lively and funny Cynthia Harris), the alleged homeowner. We appreciate Adriana’s sulfuric wit which she states, “is not nastiness, but my European sense of irony.” This upper crust lady is a former clothing designer and she is entertaining her down-to-earth and frenetic real estate broker, Rita (the excellent Julie Halston), who may or may not broker the townhouse sale. Jimmy (Charles Busch) a recently fired Las Vegas drag queen, who prefers to be called a “celebrity tribute artist,” is staying with Adriana for a while. When we are introduced to Rita and Jimmy, both are modeling Adriana’s designer clothing and Jimmy is modeling one of her wigs. Rita and Jimmy have been long time friends and they enjoy Adriana’s hospitality as she fills in details from her past which, unbeknownst to them, are portentous to their future. When they all fall asleep from rather too much drink, the scene shifts to morning and the comedy and plot complications jolt into the most interesting of wonderful possibilities.

Charles Busch as Jimmy impersonating Adriana in The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse

Charles Busch as Jimmy impersonating Adriana in The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse

During the night, Adriana has passed; she did say she was dying, but Jimmy and Rita didn’t believe her. No one will inherit this lovely house and it will end up in the hands of the government since there are no inheritors and no will. The path appears to be clear that Adriana wants the house sold and is exerting her will that this should be exacted by those who are present. They are a perfect combination:  a real estate broker and a female impersonator who just happens to have in his repertoire all the greats from Marilyn Monroe to Betty Davis. Impersonating “Adriana” will be easy.  Jimmy and Rita talk themselves into the devilish plan (a hilarious segue), plotting that Jimmy will become Adriana for the time it takes Rita to sell the house. In the clear, they will split their “winnings” fifty/fifty. They even have the perfect resolution for how to deal with Adriana’s remains. Through their euphoria, they both agree that they may have forgotten something, only they aren’t sure what.

What they’ve forgotten shows up in the next scenes, creates havoc and additional conundrums. The plot complications humorously involve the real heirs who will take the townhouse away from Rita and Jimmy.  The inheritors are Adriana’s late husband’s loathsome relatives, niece Christina (a perfectly overwrought Mary Bacon) and grandniece Rachel Oliver (a fine Keira Keeley). An additional complication involves one of Adriana’s former lovers, the sexy and very masculine Rodney (Jonathan Walker in a hysterical performance). Somehow Rita and Jimmy deal with these “interlopers” and Jimmy’s impersonation of Adriana goes swimmingly for a time until Rodney throws the switch that could overturn their peaceful coexistence. Once again the elements of farce are stepped up with the added suspense that Rodney may be up to something worse than the “silly little fraud” that Rita and Jimmy had hoped to commit.

L to R: Kiera Keeley, Charles Busch, Julie Halston, Mary Bacon, Jonathan Walker in The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch, presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

L to R: Keira Keeley, Charles Busch, Julie Halston, Mary Bacon, Jonathan Walker in The Tribute Artist by Charles Busch, presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by James Leynse.

While spinning these humorous events, the playwright carefully weaves in issues of class, gender, identity and social injustice. He does this with wit and subtle undercurrents of poignancy in keeping with the comedic pacing. Added to the glee, Jimmy unleashes his repertoire of old-time celebrity actresses with snippets of dialogue from their most famous scenes. Rosalyn Russel, Katherine Hepburn, Betty Davis and others show up and aptly spout “wisdom” to heighten the madness. In his impersonations Busch is at the apex of his powers. His “Running Wild” is superb. If you don’t know which actress performed the song from which iconic film, then you’ll have to get yourself to 59E59 Theaters where the production is being performed. Rita will clue you in to the impersonations just in case you were born after 1980.

The playwright ties up all the complications and reveals the inner workings of each character reinforcing one of the main themes: one never knows how things will out in the end. In Busch’s iteration the phrasing is more poetic. The production will be running until March 16th. It is being presented by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters.

The review first appeared on Blogcritics. Click Here.

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