NY Review: 'The Late Christopher Bean'
The Late Christopher Bean
Lisa Jo Sigolla
November 12, 2009
Committed to mounting neglected plays of literary merit, the Actors Company Theatre has just opened its 17th season with "The Late Christopher Bean," a comedic gem from 1932. Penned by Sidney Howard, who won an Academy Award for his "Gone With the Wind" screenplay and a Pulitzer Prize for the 1925 drama "They Knew What They Wanted" (the source for the musical "The Most Happy Fella"), the play is a tightly written satire that proffers profound insight into human avarice through punchy dialogue and biting innuendo.
While TACT's piquant production of the caustic comedy makes for a delicious evening at the theater, one may come away more irked than amused, because of how pertinently the play speaks to our current economic crisis. The manner in which greed upends the story's respectable Yankee household sadly parallels how greedy individuals of our day capsized the American economy.
With well-observed portrayals of typical American small-town folks and big-city characters—and their hilariously contrasting attitudes, particularly when it comes to art—the show tells the tale of a country doctor who is visited by a New York art critic, a forger, and a sleazy dealer when it is discovered that the doctor may be in possession of paintings by a deceased artist whose work is suddenly skyrocketing in value. The comic antics are directed with controlled velocity by Jenn Thompson, who never lets the riotous proceedings get so wild as to undermine the elegance of Howard's efficient language, which is where the bulk of the show's sharp humor lies.
The production resides comfortably within Charlie Corcoran's handsomely homey 1930s farmhouse set and is smartly cast with outstanding comedic actors, who all manage to mark their characters with a singular, appealing peculiarity. Most impressive are Cynthia Darlow as the doctor's wife and James Murtaugh, who renders a brilliantly calibrated depiction of the steadfast doctor gradually becoming consumed by greed until he finally goes completely berserk.