Sunday, February 10, 2002

The Infinite Regress of Human Vanity (Cleveland Play House)


When I first saw 'THE INFINITE REGRESS OF HUMAN VANITY' when it was workshopped at the Cleveland Play House as part of the 1999 Next Stage Festival of New Plays, I called it “one of the funniest plays I’ve ever seen.” In its present enactment I still think it is one of the funniest plays I’ve seen, but I’ll also add that along with its deep humor the playwright has imbedded a very thought-provoking message. It’s a toss-up as to which is most pleasurable about the play.

The story supposedly concerns Nathan Pine, a playwright who comes to see his new play presented at a play festival, not unlike the experience of writers who are invited to have their plays showcased at the CPH New Play Festival. Pine who has a history of unusual experiences in the theatre, including having killed a producer when the man was accidentally shoved off a theatre balcony by an upset Pine, again runs into strange theatre people and the roadblocks placed in the way of a show going from script to stage.

Author Murphy Guyer, who is the CPH’s Associate Artist, has a wonderful way with words. He throws out one-liners like Neil Simon. But, unlike many of Simon’s shows, Guyer bases his scripts on a set of philosophical principals and questions. In this play Guyer states, “Self interest is the essence of life itself” and “Our vanity is our mind’s immune system.” That philosophical bent makes 'THE INFINITE REGRESS OF HUMAN VANITY' more than just a comedy, but a very funny play that makes an important point.

Cleveland is blessed with many fine actors. Andrew May is one of them. May is wonderful in this production. No one has a more mobile face than May, no one can look as pained as May, no one can key a laugh with an open-eyed expression as May can. He is perfect in his role. Liz Hazel as the women’s libber dramaturg is hysterical. Christie Butter, as the beautiful young assistant, is engaging.

Unfortunately, some of this cast isn’t as convincing as the workshop production. Jonathan Partington doesn’t quite convince as the playwright in the play within the play, Ben Nordstrom skims the character’s surface as the young hip kid, and Paul Floriano doesn’t break the emotional plane as the producer.

Capsule judgement: Go to see 'THE INFINITE REGRESS OF HUMAN VANITY' expecting to laugh. Go to see 'THE INFINITE REGRESS OF HUMAN VANITY' expecting to be moved to think about about self interest and the ego. Go see 'THE INFINITE REGRESS OF HUMAN VANITY' because, as the script says, “A true comedy is funny to the very end.” Go to see 'THE INFINITE REGRESS OF HUMAN VANITY.'