nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 14, 2006
I won't mince words and I won't beat around the bush: Losing Louie stinks. At best, it's a what-were-they-thinking episode for the folks in charge at Manhattan Theatre Club. At worst, it's an embarrassment of the first order.
Imported from London, this comedy by novice playwright Simon Mendes Da Costa is about two brothers who haven't seen each other in ten years who re-unite for their father's funeral. Tony Ellis, 50, is a struggling member of the working class with a teenage daughter (who suffers from some undisclosed condition that, I think, requires her to be institutionalized) and a low-class wife named Sheila who, though apparently rather stupid, is also shrewd in that stereotyped-B-Movie-dumb-blonde way. Reggie Ellis, six years younger, is a spectacularly successful lawyer with expensive cars, an expensive house, two genius twin children, and a smart and sophisticated wife named Elizabeth who has had her wedding ring turned into some kind of genital jewelry in a desperate attempt to save their marriage (Reggie sleeps around).
As these four struggle to get Père Ellis buried—and they contend with a variety of absurd obstacles, such as a funeral parlor that doubles as a bakery, a church that has a wedding scheduled for just a few hours after the funeral (and the Ellises are Jewish!), and a stalled hearse in the middle of a torrential downpour that requires Tony and Reggie to cart their dad's remains to the service in the back of Tony's hatchback—recriminations and regrets are dredged up, spewed back and forth, and—for this is that kind of witless play—neatly resolved before the curtain falls.
Simultaneously (although not so much in Act II), we see the back story get played out. In flashbacks from 40-some years before, Louie Ellis, Tony and Reggie's father, deals with his own marital difficulties. He's married to a gentile, the beautiful but slightly dim Bobbie; but he's in love with Bella, a law student who, for reasons that never quite made sense to me, lives with the Ellises. The very first scene of the play finds Louie and Bella banging away in the big blue-sheeted bed that's the centerpiece of the show's single implausibly over-used set, with 6-year-old Tony hiding underneath, presumably getting psychologically scarred for life. (Poor young Tony, thankfully never seen, is also described as a budding transvestite, a sissy, and a bully—though none of those particular qualities is particularly evident in the 50-year-old version we do meet, making me wonder why all these red-herring attributes have even been mentioned.)
Anyway, to make a long though entirely predictable story short, Bella is pregnant and engaged to a gentile serviceman named Tom (guess who the real father is?). And when Bobbie, also pregnant, goes into premature labor because Tony tells her he saw Daddy in bed with Bella, she loses her child.
I think you can see where this is going. Let me just also mention that, in Act II, just as the modern-day couples are wondering where Louie's will is, a painting of Louie falls on the floor for no apparent reason, revealing a heretofore unknown wall safe. No, Da Costa doesn't trade in subtlety: everything in Losing Louie is breathtakingly obvious.
A sizable amount of theatrical talent has been wasted on this project, starting with Jerry Zaks, who proves himself here unable to work the miracle of making this material funny; and continuing with Matthew Arkin (Reggie), Patricia Kalember (Elizabeth), Mark Linn-Baker (Tony), and Michele Pawk (Sheila), all of whom seem fairly uncomfortable to have landed themselves in this mess. Pawk gives her role the gamest go, but her character is so poorly and inconsistently written that no amount of technique and panache can really help; nor is she abetted by a hairdo and costume that make her look like a Valley of the Dolls-vintage Susan Hayward. Scott Cohen, Jama Williamson, and Rebecca Creskoff round out the cast, with Creskoff the only one who acquits herself reasonably well—she's got a handle on bubble-headed Bobbie (and that handle is the Katey Sagal character from Married...with Children).
Anywho, it all makes for a very long haul, trying to sit through this grotesque family comedy, though I have to admit that there were folks in the audience who appeared to be having a pretty good time. Go figure.
I would like to suggest, though, that the next time MTC wants to give a boost to a newly emerging playwright, I can give them at least 100 names of artists just as unknown but many times more deserving than the one they chose to elevate here. Losing Louie, a sorry waste of time and effort and resources, has no business being on Broadway.