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Comic Potential

Reviewed by David A. Rosenberg

Presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club by special arrangement with Michael Codron at City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th St., NYC, Nov. 16-Dec. 31.

Thanks to the exchange program between American and British Equity, Janie Dee is recreating her multiple-award-winning role in Alan Ayckbourn's funny and doleful "Comic Potential" at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The adorable Dee is so deliciously wacky, yet so dexterously serious, she is bound to become the talk of the town.

The play is a soufflé of satire, romance, and cautionary Pygmalion tale. Set in the future, it concerns a low-grade television soap directed by Chandler Tate, an alcoholic has-been who used to make great silent comedies. Harried by his lesbian assistants and the sex-starved termagant who runs the production company, Tate is further driven to drink when his actors (or, rather, actoids, since they are pre-programmed androids) go literally haywire.

Into the maelstrom comes Adam, a naïve, worshipful young comedy writer, played with just the right combination of ardor and humor by Alexander Chaplin. Realizing Jacie's comic potential, he falls for her—and she for him, of course—becoming more human in the process.

Ayckbourn comments on comedy, actors, the Bible, sex, love, etc. The plot threatens to spin out of control, but the playwright's capacity for melding pain and pleasure (this is his 53rd work) catches you up when you least expect it.

Arms akimbo, fingers splayed, her voice traveling octaves in a single sentence, Dee is sensational whether miming or speaking. But this is no one-woman tour-de-force. Under John Tillinger's splendid direction, in addition to Chaplin, John Curless, MacIntyre Dixon, Carson Elrod, Peter Michael Goetz, Mercedes Herrero, Robin Moseley, Kristine Nielsen, and Kellie Overbey create a slew of comic characters as original as they are winning.

This is also a terrific physical production, from John Lee Beatty's set, Brian MacDevitt's lighting, Jane Greenwood's costumes, and Bruce Ellman's sound design to Jeff Calhoun's choreography, John Pattison's music, and Paul Huntley's giddy wigs.

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