Estelle Parsons and Judith Ivey are reason enough to get to the Cherry Lane Theatre
By Joel Benjamin
Seeing Estelle Parsons and Judith Ivey on stage is—no questions asked—reason alone to get to the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. Add that they are in a play by Israel Horowitz (with whom they have a long history) and it goes without saying that missing Out of the Mouths of Babes simply isn’t an option. (It’s a tiny theatre and a short run—enough said.)
Out of the Mouths of Babes takes place in the present day in the Paris apartment of a recently deceased professor of literature and music, a lifelong roué whose name is never uttered. He has just died at close to 100 and someone has sent for two women, one a former wife—the 88 year old Evelyn (Parsons)—and the other former longtime mistress—the 68 year old Evvie (Ivey).
These two chatter on about their guy who doesn’t appear to have been a paragon of virtue or looks, but managed to marry at least three times (we soon discover) and have affairs with his students, driving his first wife, Snookie, to suicide and another, Janice (Angelina Fiordellisi) to attempt it.
Evelyn and Evvie trade very smart barbs about their respective ages and their experiences in this apartment which is situated just above a famous canal, in which Snookie committed suicide and Janice narrowly missed completing it.
Janice, 58 and conservative looking, appears, at first meek and then angry at not having gotten the invitation and airplane tickets that Evelyn and Evvie so generously received. As Janice peruses the studio’s windows, it is clear that she is considering doing herself in—again! And, indeed, her attempts to toss herself out the window and into the canal become a rather sad comic theme in Babes.
Finally, lovely Marie-Belle (Francesca Choy-Kee), 38 and the final spouse of the louse, enters and the plot thickens. Marie-Belle was fully sixty years this man’s junior, yet claims to have loved him so deeply, that his spirit has returned to her. Marie-Belle’s relationship with the dead professor’s ghost is the running joke of the last third of the play and leads to a surprise ending that is both satisfying and confusing.
It is difficult to keep up with the order of the affairs, but we do know that the first wife, Snookie, killed herself when she was replaced by Evvie who subsequently left. Evvie returned to the guy when he was married to Janice which signaled Janice’s suicide attempt. Evelyn fit in somehow.
We do learn that he was a bit domestic phobic. (He would buy new dishes and socks rather than wash them!) We also deduce that each of these women is smart and smart-mouthed although little else about them is revealed except that Evelyn was a reporter, a job which took her away from her deteriorating marriage.
Horowitz’s witty dialogue and his ability to use his laser focus makes each character more than a comic riff. His focus is on how these four disparate women relate to each other and their deceased husband/lover.
Neil Patel used every square inch of the small Cherry Lane stage for his plain, almost ugly, apartment, brightened by a number of small paintings on the wall. (The program contained a guide to these paintings, some of which were painted by celebrities: Tina Louise, Billy Dee Williams, Eve Plumb and Joel Grey.) Joseph G. Aulisi’s costumes helped defined each lady’s personality and Paul Miller’s lighting made the most of the setting.
Director Barnet Kellman never let the pacing flag without getting frenetic. He understands these actresses completely. The four women were splendidly funny without descending to shtick. Their timing was perfect, from how they spoke their lines and how they reacted to them.
Out of the Mouths of Babes – through July 31, 2016
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street, between Bedford and Barrow Streets
New York, NY
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.cherrylanetheatre.org
Running time: two hours, including one intermission
Photos: Carol Rosegg