nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
May 16, 2007
Phallacy, written by Carl Djerassi and directed by Elena Araoz, is a smart—if perhaps at times a bit heavy-handed—black comedy.
A revered classical statue has long been thought to be a Roman original. It is much loved, and in fact somewhat eroticized, by Doctor Regina Leitner-Opfermann (played in wonderful grande-dame fashion by Lisa Harrow), a top art historian. In walks scientist Dr. Rex Stolzfuss (Simon Jones, also terrific here), who challenges the origins of the piece and proves it to be a 16th-century cast.
Is the piece now less valuable or less worthy of admiration? Is the appreciation of something lessened when we have new information about it, even if it has served our fantasies all this time?
Now, I'm not exactly sure that I came out of Phallacy with any answers, but that's not really the point. We have here a search for truth, as well as the delving into what makes up a person's passion. The statue in question is a great object of appreciation by our art historian, practically a lover: as described by Doctor Leitner-Opfermann, "The moment I laid eyes on him I felt a wave of intuitive attraction... Art historians develop a powerful unconscious ability." At one point she recites the exact measurements, in centimeters, of the distance between his eyes, the length of his nose, the distance from his Adam's apple to his navel, and other minute details indicating that fine line between obsession and passion.
The two other characters, Doctor Otto Ellenbogen (Vince Nappo) and Emma Finger (Carrie Heitman) serve to move the plot along—involving a trick played on Doctor Leitner-Opfermann which I won't reveal—but the characters themselves are rather weakly drawn. I know who Doctor Leitner-Opfermann is, and I know who Doctor Rex Stolzfuss, but even the small romantic tension between Emma and Otto doesn't make them half as compelling to watch as the other two.
There seems to be a subtle antagonistic flirtation between Doctors Leitner-Opfermann and Stolzfuss which is much more believable and interesting than the one between Emma and Otto, perhaps the indication of how two very passionate people are drawn to their own kind.
There are some good witticisms here: "Scientific bullies are the worst kind: They smother you in facts." This comment on art historians: "They are blinded by the self-assurance of their aesthetic self-importance." Or this droll exchange: "Define art." "An image from the mirror of life." "Oh, good God."