Amazing Journey

"New Year's Revolutions: Doors Slam, Clothes Drop"
The New York Times
March 3, 2004
By Ben Brantley

In this age of celebrity makeovers, you have perhaps wondered what Marsha Mason would look like if she were restyled by Federico Fellini. O.K., so you haven't. Anyway, this oddball speculation has been given amusing flesh in the Second Stage Theater's production of Charles L. Mee's "Wintertime," the logorrheic romp of a sex farce that opened last night.

Ms. Mason — whose all-American ability to be teary, plucky and perky at the same time snagged her four Oscar nominations for best actress — has been translated into an oozing, ripe pomodoro for Mr. Mee's latest excursion into the wacked-out wonderland of love.

Making her entrance, cleavage first in a snug foundation garment and scanty robe, Ms. Mason is a composite of all those ample-bodied überwomen who used to tempt and torment Marcello Mastroianni. Plucky and perky are not adjectives that come to mind here, and Ms. Mason appears to be having a swell time being someone other than Marsha Mason.

All of the performers in "Wintertime," as directed by David Schweizer, seem to be enjoying themselves as they wildly slam doors and shed clothes. This is a good thing, since otherwise the audience wouldn't have much to hold on to. As it is, "Wintertime," a deconstruction of Feydeau-style erotic frenzy, still melts into a stagnant puddle well before its two hours are over.

Mr. Mee specializes in that funny thing called love. (His recent works include "First Love," "Big Love" and "True Love.") He brings an ingenuous and theatrical passion to the subject, rather like an adolescent boy who has discovered "Oedipus Rex" and "The Seven Year Itch" at the same time. The question with Mr. Mee is always whether his bubbly enthusiasm will prevail over the staleness of what he has to say.

Neither those familiar or unfamiliar with Mr. Mee's work will learn anything new here. Set in a Hamptons-style beach house in a snowstorm, "Wintertime" charts the increasingly knotted (and increasingly talky) romantic entanglements of a group of people who converge there for New Year's Eve.

At its center are Maria (Ms. Mason) and her husband, Frank (Nicholas Hormann), each of whom has brought along a male lover (played by Michael Cerveris and T. Scott Cunningham), much to the dismay of the couple's pouty son (Christopher Denham), who expected to have the place to himself with his wide-eyed girlfriend (Brienin Bryant).

The characters are all archetypes, as are the situations in which they find themselves. A door on wheels is introduced at some point, so everybody can take turns slamming it. And the same speech is repeated verbatim by two characters, to demonstrate the cyclical but unchanging nature of love. As is usual with Mr. Mee, the ancient Greeks are allowed to have their say, channeled here by a Plato-quoting deliveryman (Danny Mastrogiorgio).

Playing a big fat archetype can be liberating for actors used to sweating over sense memory and motivation. And the pleasures that "Wintertime" affords come largely from its cast members' cutting loose. In addition to presenting Ms. Mason as a "Dolce Vita" earth goddess, the production allows Mr. Cerveris, best known for his intense musical performances ("Titanic," "Passion"), to do a soulful and funny impersonation of a French roué: part Maurice Chevalier, part Gérard Philipe.

The elegant Carmen de Lavallade shows up as a grumpy old lesbian, whose partner is played with great zest by the always entertaining Marylouise Burke. The ensemble is rounded out by Tina Benko, who does a female variation on Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd's "wild and crazy guys" routine.

The cast and production values are probably better than the slapdash script warrants. Andrew Lieberman's chic Christmas card of a set, over which snow falls continuously, brings to mind a holiday television commercial for Old Navy.

David Zinn's costumes notably include the flashy underwear in which the characters frolic in the final scene while singing that overused aria from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi." By this time, while the performers are still in full festive form, theatergoers are more likely to feel the glazed embarrassment of sober guests at a drunken party.


By Charles L. Mee; directed by David Schweizer; sets by Andrew Lieberman; lighting by Kevin Adams; costumes by David Zinn; sound by Eric Shim; choreography by Seán Curran; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; production stage manager, Christine Lemme; stage manager, Kelly Hance. Presented by Second Stage Theater, Carole Rothman, artistic director; Timothy J. McClimon, executive director; and the McCarter Theater Center. At 307 West 43rd Street, Clinton.

WITH: Michael Cerveris (Francois), Marsha Mason (Maria), Tina Benko (Jacqueline), Brienin Bryant (Ariel), Marylouise Burke (Hilda), T. Scott Cunningham (Edmund), Carmen de Lavallade (Bertha), Christopher Denham (Jonathan), Nicholas Hormann (Frank) and Danny Mastrogiorgio (Bob).


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