HATCHETMAN (renamed Scramble, renamed Hatchetman)

By Dante J.J. Bevilacqua Theater Reviewer

Hank Aaron once said, "It took me 17 years to get 3,000 hits in baseball. I did it in one afternoon on the golf course." In David Wiltse's hysterical comedy about the overheated worlds of golf, golf magazines and corporate takeovers, you will get in your 3,000 laughs before intermission. Wiltse is the author of 12 novels and the winner of the Drama Desk Award. This is his 11th play. "Hatchetman" is the story of a small golf magazine called Putts in the midst of a rumored corporate takeover. Audience members who have spent time in an office and experienced corporate politics and rumor-mongering will easily identify with the psychosis here. This People's Light production features a spectacular pinpoint-perfect cast that plunges into this riotous farce in the true spirit of Feydeau, Ayckbourn, Cooney and Frayn. Under the sure-handed direction of Steve Umberger, the marvelous ensemble makes the difficult look easy with its wicked sense of humor and an inventive knack for geometry. This sizzler has everything slamming doors, scantily clad women, lots of physical comedy, mistaken identities, double entendres and frenetic pacing. It takes paranoia and office hysteria to the limit and I just loved it! In the play, the golf magazine where all the characters work has been sold. Heads will probably be rolling soon, and the employees have reason to believe there is a spy among them, taking notes for a report on who should stay and who should go. "Hatchetman" starts out in hysteria and builds to a solidly funny second act. What makes this farce really cook is a through-line of truth even in the most frantic and ridiculous of situations. That truth quickly materializes in the first act. The play is loaded with physical comedy and general slapstick. There are several sneezing attacks, one demonstration of bizarre bird-mating sounds and a loud clattering as things fall and crash in the office's storage room. Each character has a singular purpose and comic tic. There's curvaceous writer Temple (Mary McCool), who is allergic to flowers; hack co-worker Carter (Pete Pryor), an editor with no apparent skills but procrastination and womanizing, who is perpetually lusting after Temple; plain Jane (Julia Stroup), who gets chronically tongue-tied around Carter and office hanger-on Otis (Tom Teti), who can never find the right word, but whose "memory by association" is drop-dead funny. Into this group comes new employee Johnson (Andrew Kane), a forlorn individual with a stammer that's only alleviated when he goes into song. Topping off this dysfunctional crew is the office manager, Sam (Mary Elizabeth Scallen), a sexual Venus fly-trap who has her eyes and claws set on Carter. The second-act 9 p.m. rendezvous back at the office turns into delightful mayhem. Director Umberger has obviously found the elixir, that magic formula that works to perfection here. Each member of the ensemble has perfectly sketched his or her character type; the satire is impeccable. If you enjoy facial expressions as much as I do, this is a tour de farce. Meticulous production elements have long been People's Light forte, so it comes as no surprise that Marla Jurglanis' eye-catching costume designs, James Pyne's set creation and Dennis Parichy's skillful lighting handsomely illuminate the proceedings here. Pyne's brightly colored set of two adjoining offices provides a tempting arena for farce. Connecting closets filled with assorted junk become a hiding place, an escape alley and an orgy palace. You'll enjoy the golf course carpet replete with sand trap and rough. There are no deep-seated philosophical meanings here, no high-minded socially redeeming values to hang your hat onto, just gut-busting, side-splitting laughter. As the saying goes, dying is easy, but comedy is hard. Add to the equation that farce is even harder. I made the mistake of holding back and my stomach ached for hours afterwards. When you go, just dive in; enjoy the fun from start to finish that is what this sexy, zany farce is all about. Put this one in the "not to be missed" category. Published: Tuesday, June 21, 2011


By E. Kyle Minor

New Haven Register

Appointing David Wiltse as playwright-in-residence at Westport Country Playhouse may have been the sanest thing the organization did in the theater's somewhat topsy-turvy past year. His presence personifies consistency... Patrons have known that regardless of how widely the shows have spanned in sensibilities, they could rely on at least one smart, well-crafted play by Wiltse.

Presently the Playhouse features Wiltse's office farce, "Scramble!". Those familiar with the author's previous plays, from his earlier "A Dance Lesson" to the recent "Sedition", appreciate Wiltse's skill at tackling difficult issues with poignancy and guts. Fans of his light-handed but deceptively unsettling romantic comedy "A Marriage Minuet" know that he is capable of a humorous edge.

Now he plunges into the precarious terrain of farce, where angels fear to tread and in rush Feydeau, Ayckbourn, Cooney and Frayn. Farce is perhaps the most difficult comedy to craft because it requires not only a wicked sense of humor but also an inventive knack for geometry. It also requires, by today's standards, a long time to set up a situation credible enough and stakes high enough to send characters in and out of doors in various degrees of undress. Wiltse obviously knows this as he brings his curtain down within 90 minutes.

...Director Tracy Brigden, who splendidly directed "A Marriage Minuet" at the Playhouse, uses a slightly heavier hand this time, as she encourages the actors to paint their characters in bold, broad primary colors. This gives the effect of a loud, frantic first act but it all pays off after intermission, when the play becomes a randy farce akin to "A Midsummer Nights Dream" revised by Joe Orton.

....(Audience members) who have ever spent time in an office and dipped their toe into the chilly water of politics and rumor-mongering will identify with all their hearts.



Scarsdale Inquirer


A fast-talking farce of love, work and golf


The editorial office of a golf magazine seems an unlikely place for a comedic farce. But it makes perfect sense in the context of ""Scramble!"" by David Wiltse, playwright in residence at the Westport Country Playhouse.

Actually, ""Scramble,"" isn''t about golf at all; it''s about a very typical small office and the Byzantine romantic intrigues that go on there. The fact that this office houses a golf magazine is merely secondary to the struggles over sex and power that are the real focus of the staff''s interest.

The play''s title, ""Scramble!,"" does owe a nod to a variation of the game of golf by that name. In the basic game of Scramble, each member of a four-person team tees off on a hole, then the best of their tee shots is selected and all players play their second shots from the location of that best tee shot, continuing on until the ball is holed. There are numerous variations on the theme, such as Texas Scramble, Florida Scramble, Reverse Scramble, and so on; there is even an organization called Scramble Golf America that organizes Scramble golf tournaments.

Wiltse''s play is a lot like the game, in that nobody knows quite who''s on top and who''s doing what to whom from one moment to the next. The plot is almost secondary to the jokes and silliness that result.

David Wiltse has written 12 plays, and he has been Westport''s playwright-in-residence since 2006. His comedy ""Triangles for Two"" and the dramas ""The Good German"" and ""Sedition"" had their world premieres at the Playhouse. He also wrote the comedies ""Doubles"" and ""A Marriage Minuet,"" and a thriller, ""Temporary Help.""

Wiltse is one of today''s most versatile playwrights, but although he refuses to be limited to one genre, he is consistent when it comes to creating memorable characters. The split-second exits and entrances, the double entendres and the mistaken identities are all delivered in classic farcical style, but the characters are the ingredients that make ""Scramble"" so much fun to watch.

The six players in ""Scramble"" all inhabit the too-close-for-comfort headquarters of a golf journal that is reportedly about to be sold, making all the employees extremely nervous about the future of their jobs. But even with unemployment looming, that doesn''t stop the three men and three women from trying out several variations on the theme of interoffice love (or, as some would call it, workplace sexual harassment).

There''s sexy Temple (Jennifer Mudge), who doesn''t know much about golf but definitely wants to get ahead in the publishing world, no matter how she has to do it. There''s Jane (Rebecca Harris), a high-strung copywriter with kooky layers of mismatched clothing and the unfortunate habit of talking so fast that only her true friends can understand what she''s saying. There''s Carter (Matthew Rauch), who is a bit too comfortable in his job, considering how hard he works at it.

On the management level are Sam (Candy Buckley), an editor with the instincts of a dominatrix, and Otis (Colin McPhillamy), the only member of the staff who seems to actually play golf. Finally, there''s Johnson (Tom Beckett), a tongue-tied newcomer and Man of Mystery. Is he a genius? A poor nebbish? A spy dispatched by the new owners to report on the antics of the staff and decides who should stay or go? When these six characters collide, anything can happen.

Wiltse has shown once again that he can master any stage genre. Sure, a couple of the lines fall flat, and some of the jokes get retold a few times too many. But on the whole, director Tracy Brigden keeps the pacing good and fast. There are plenty of quick sight gags, sound effect jokes and pratfalls going on here, in addition to all of Wiltse''s clever wordplay. ""Scramble!"" may not be a ""hole in one"" in the annals of stage comedy, but it''s definitely above par.


Friday, May 09, 2008

By Christopher Rawson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Amid the fast-paced hilarity of "A Marriage Minuet," the morally shaken Douglas objects, "Everything isn't about sex," to which the happily promiscuous Rex replies, "Sure it is."

Actually, David Wiltse's wonderful comedy is less about sex than marriage, and less about that than self-delusion.

It's a light play, no doubt, but any veteran participant in marriage, or maybe just any observer, will find it richly stocked with shrewd observation, no less funny for being true.

Take Rex's assurance about sex. Funny in context, it's ordinary enough. But Wiltse is no ordinary comic playwright.

Rex supports his point by noting that women talk about sex all the time, and as the two men are rejoined by their wives, he waves his hand to mark every double-entendre.

Funny this is, because it's true, if not the whole truth. And thereafter, because Wiltse knows how to keep a good idea in play, hands occasionally wave in derisive commentary. He does this again with a knowing little speech about the language of touching, such that subsequent touches get funnier and funnier.

Wiltse's most brilliant idea marries expression to self-conscious commentary. Call it Triple Comic Speak.

Characters talk to each other with more or less knowing humor. But they also slip into wry summary, as if I were to commiserate with your tale of woe by looking deep into your eyes and saying, "affectations of deep sympathy, protestations of meaningless concern," and you responded, "spurious expression of gratitude, denial of irritation." (I don't do this as well as Wiltse: his are funny.)

For the third level, they talk freely to the audience, making us confidants in their narcissism.

Call these three text, supra-text and counter-text -- Wilse dexterously shifts from one mode to another so quickly you race along beside him, savoring those moments when straight and wry talk overlap, tickling your mind.

There's also a fourth dimension in witty chapter titles projected above the stage, and some actual dancing, echoing the formal seduction games of earlier dramatic styles. Rex has a speech that could have come from a Restoration comedy and Douglas has Nabokovian irony.

The two men are writers, but while womanizing Rex is wildly successful and superficial, dour Douglas' books sell barely in the dozens, so he also lectures with sneering authority to resistant undergraduates.

Rex's Violet is a teacher and a mother (Rex hardly seems a father), and about Douglas' Lily, I don't recall.

Mainly, they're wives, one long-suffering, the other complacent if a touch bored. Of course they're a lot smarter than the men, whom they generally see right through, while the men can't see deeper than their attractions.

This superiority of women's insight I'd rather regard as a fantasy of the male author.

But no, face it, in real life if not always in theater, women are generally smarter. Mostly, anyway. Sometimes, at least -- which is why they let us run so many things, out of pity.

The story is that each of the four gets interested in the other's spouse, and Rex also has a series of encounters with young women, all played with zesty variety by Tami Dixon.

Douglas Rees is right at home as the painfully moral but intrigued Douglas; I especially like his lectures to his challenging students, a comic parallel commentary. Ross Bickell is like a shiny-faced, aging puppy as Rex (note the name), who manages to find substance even in superficiality.

Helena Ruoti is Douglas' wryly supportive Violet and Deirdre Madigan is Rex's repressed and rebellious Lily (note the flower names for both).

It is a rare male playwright who can write women who are so smart and engaging and make them likable, too. Side note: I, too, would be in danger of falling for a woman who actually used the word "lambent."

I don't see how the actors or director Brigden could wring any more laughter out of the play.

The former ride their laughs like pros, and the latter has set them up for success.

Yes, it's a farce, sort of, but it invites thought. Even set designer Jeff Cowie has his say with an ornate proscenium arch, a second, Mondrian-like frame and within that, richly draped crimson curtains.

Triply framing Wiltse's triple speak, this insists there's more there than immediately apparent.

Or as Alexander Pope might have said, "what deep-browed insights rise from trivial things."

Play reviews: 'Sedition'; 'Hatchetman'; 'The Good German'; 'A Marriage Minuet'



Thursday, May 1, 2008
Stephen Wells, Baristanet's esteemed theater critic-at-large, reviews David Wiltse's "Sedition," playing through Sunday, at Madison's Playwrights Theatre.

...The current production of David Wiltse's "Sedition"... is, quite simply, the best and most fully developed and well-made new play to premiere in New Jersey in the last couple of years.

...Long before McCarthyism cast shame upon Washington in the middle of the last century, an intolerance even more insidious was adopted into the American rubric by Woodrow Wilson's administration as it attempted to promote America's interests and involvement in World War I. A sanctioned witch hunt, with the purpose of nailing anyone caught speaking out against the war, or even knowing of someone who did, was embodied by government agents, such as Mr. Wiltse's Megrim, who, as played by Walker Jones, arrogantly and self-righteously tried to smoke out those who mistakenly thought they were protected under the First Amendment.

Megrim's target, and the focus of the play, is a German professor at the University of Nebraska, named Andrew Schrag, brilliantly portrayed, with fine nuance, by Playwrights Theatre's artistic director, John Pietrowski. By tempering Schrag's outrage with a sense of reasoning that is his stock-in-trade, he makes the character's journey all the more harrowing.

If the evening has a fault it's one's own continual disbelief that policies and actions so outrageous and extreme could have happened in America. One desperately hopes, despite all indicators to the contrary, that Mr. Wiltse's dramatic license has resulted in exaggeration, for this is a two-hour plunge into one of the darker and lesser known episodes in American history that's been powerfully dramatized and will make all who see it even more wary of how government authority can be recklessly misused.

-- Reviewed by Stephen Wells




Published: August 12, 2007

Passing Veterans Green on my way home from the Westport Country Playhouse last week, I was struck by the suddenly ambiguous statue of a World War I doughboy carrying his kit bag, helmet and rifle. Somehow, he looked burdened rather than glorious, more worn-out than brave. Surely the memorial hadn't changed; it was me. I was coming from David Wiltse's new play and my head was full of questions about America's participation in that tragic, famously unnecessary conflict.
A playwright who rattles the way you see things must be doing something right. In "Sedition," Mr. Wiltse reaches back to his own family history, chronicling his grandfather's World War I run-in with the enforcers of patriotism. It's a compelling story in itself, but Mr. Wiltse pointedly underlines the parallels between Woodrow Wilson's decision to enter the war against Germany and George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq.
So the play operates as both history and metaphor, an intent reflected in Donald Eastman's bifurcated design: for the literal plane, an array of wooden tables and chairs suggesting the work's academic setting; for the symbolic one, three overhead boxes filled, Joseph Cornell-style, with objects representing the intellectual, domestic and political aspects of the story.
The American-born son of German immigrants, Andrew Schrag is head of the German department at the University of Nebraska --a cautious, thoughtful man newly married to a woman with English roots. His feelings about the coming war with Germany are no secret, but he's far from an activist. He's offended by the anti-German hysteria spreading through the nation; and he's worried about what will befall the young men he has taught when they march off to the trenches. Mostly, he sees no reason for the United States to sacrifice its citizenry and its wealth to defeat a country that no longer poses a credible threat. But when Congress passes the Sedition Act of 1918, speaking out against the war becomes a crime, witch hunts become the norm and Schrag must choose between his self-respect and his position in the community.
That community is personified onstage by a wife, played by Hannah Cabell, who seems overly concerned with what the neighbors think; a colleague, portrayed by Mark Shanahan, whose allegiances run skin-deep at best; and a boss, Colin McPhillamy, who cares more about the university's reputation than its ideals.
Then there's Megrim, the ferrety government inquisitor tracking down every whisper, every germ of irregular thought. Until Megrim goes head-to-head with Schrag, in the second act, "Sedition" feels a little thin and overly schematic. But then Mr. Wiltse brings out the big guns, writing a debate between the two antagonists that crackles with tension and wit and a blazing belief in the rights embedded in the Constitution. "What cussedness of spirit makes us resist those who are so willing to do our thinking for us?" Schrag asks Megrim. "One thing only, yet that thing sets us apart from the rest of the globe."
It's a thrilling scene, and Mr. Wiltse leaves no doubt about where his sympathies lie. Neither does Tazewell Thompson, whose direction tilts the argument even more than the script does.
With a graying goatee, haunted eyes and a ramrod posture, Chris Sarandon paints a picture of Schrag as a saintly intellectual steeped in rectitude (and not a little pride). Jeffrey DeMunn's Megrim, on the other hand, has a shifty, nervous demeanor that marks him immediately as untrustworthy. And to ensure that no one misses Mr. Wiltse's larger point, Mr. DeMunn, who doesn't really look or sound like President Bush, replicates his hand gestures and inflections and, most eerily, the exasperated little smile that Mr. Bush flashes after explaining something he apparently deems self-evident.
Megrim's bromides about unity and loyalty and majority rule don't stand a chance opposite Schrag's impassioned defense of liberty. Mr. Wiltse does try to even the scales a bit: both the professor's wife and his employer accuse him of vanity and question his priorities. But "Sedition" is less interested in why Schrag takes his stand than in his moral right to do so.
That doughboy standing with his head bowed on the Westport green might well have agreed with Mr. Wiltse's unqualified endorsement of freedom of speech. But what would he have thought about Schrag's objections to the war he was fighting? We know now that it didn't fulfill Wilson's promise to "make the world safe for democracy." But what if the United States had remained neutral, as Schrag urges? The problem with history and its "lessons" is that we'll never know.


Bradenton Herald


Everyone should see 'A Marriage Minuet'


Special to the Herald

David Wiltse's "A Marriage Minuet" debuted last week on Florida Studio Theatre's Mainstage, under the direction of Pamela Hunt. Here is what I have to say about it: Go see this play.

This is the kind of play that could change your life. Seriously. It made me want to give up smoking, and I don't smoke. It made me want to weep and hug everyone in the theatre. It made me a better person.

I loved this play.

This play made me want to be completely honest all the time. So let me tell you: reviewing plays is a tricky proposition, because you have to transcend your own (hopefully) cultivated and subtle aesthetic sensibility in order to reflect to a broad audience the general quality and appeal of a show. That means that all the things I found wonderful and beautiful and moving about Wiltse's play may not matter to you. Maybe the things I want to talk about here are unimportant.

But here's something I really like: art that is serious and sincere and tries to tell us something true and reform us and make us whole. That is what I liked about this play. Maybe that doesn't matter to you. Maybe what you'll like about this show is that it's cleverly structured and theatrically innovative. Maybe you'll like that it's really funny. Maybe you'll enjoy the stellar acting or the complexly gorgeous language or the fabulous set. That's cool. All of those things are there, and any one of them would be a fine reason to go see this play, but for me, what had me blinking back tears and jumping from my seat at the show's end was that it tried so hard to tell me - simply, directly, honestly - something important.

I won't spend any time trying to explain what that thing was; I wouldn't do it half the justice the play itself does. For my part, I'll just tell you that "A Marriage Minuet" is about the relationships and interrelations of two married couples. Douglas (Paul Hebron) is a literature professor and underappreciated novelist, rigidly moral and happily married to Lily (Amy McKenna). Rex (Jason O'Connell) is a popular novelist and inveterate adulterer. When Rex's unhappy wife, Violet (Stacey Scotte), confesses her love for Douglas, both couples become entangled in an intricate web of desire, deceit, and ultimately, revelation.

This all sounds a bit serious, and it is. But it's also, as I mentioned, very funny. The dialogue is wickedly clever, mixing realist conversation with baldly generalized substitutions and vocalizations of private thoughts, which critically expose the characters' intentions, hypocrisies and insincerities. It mixes over-the-top silliness with bitingly smart observations about marriage and other social constructs. The jokes are sharp and the comic expression of the performers was impeccable.

Speaking of those actors, they were brilliant, without exception. Both Hebron and O'Connell had to work through a wide range of emotions and presentations - humor exaggerated and subtle through emotional exchanges to direct monologues. While Scotte and McKenna never had to get quite as serious or quite as goofy, they both handled challenging roles excellently, as well. In addition to these four, Teresa Reilly was perfect in multiple small roles.

Director Pamela Hunt hit all the right notes: emphasizing the weightier moments without slowing the pace, so that the show manages to be exciting, entertaining and enlightening all at once, as well as utilizing the space brilliantly to maintain the tempo. And the set designed by Nayna Ramey was both ingenious and visually pleasing.

Go see this play.

Saturday, June 23, 2007
By Neil Novelli Contributing writer
The Kitchen Theatre production of David Wiltse's "A Marriage Minuet" is so bubbly and high-spirited that I'd like to compare it to champagne. But it's really more like a great fireworks show, with frequent explosions of laughter, linked by somewhat lesser guffaws and chortles. Wiltse's comedy, in its regional premiere, proves to be a funny, classy production from start to finish, a blend of ribaldry, intellect and exposure of hypocrisy in the style of the great comedies of manners.

There are two couples. Douglas (Matthew Boston) is a tweedy, weedy malcontent who preaches to his students about morality, and writes earnest books that don't sell. His vivacious wife, Lily (Rita Rehn), is happy enough, but they don't have sex. Doug has lost interest. Rex (Brian Dykstra) looks like a blond surfer who's gone a bit chunky in middle age. He writes sex-filled best-sellers, women fall for him, and he knows that he is a man led by his libido. So Rex has a lot of sex, but his tall, charming wife, Violet (Krista Scott), doesn't, and she's beginning to wonder if she can seduce Doug, at about the time that Lily decides she'd like to seduce Rex.

Oh - and there's Girl (Heather Frase). Every time a man decides to be true, Girl comes into his line of sight in one tight costume or another, apparently unaware that his eyes are riveted on her behind.

Wiltse's dialogue turns these characters loose in wild flights of stylish, exuberant language, and Margarett Perry's direction pushes stage movement toward the limits of slapstick physicality.

Kent Goetz's black-and-white set is all modish right angles, especially a small, comfortless couch. In order to have (simulated) sex on it, from foreplay to finale, the characters need enough agility and levitation skills to join Cirque du Soleil.

In the intimate, 73-seat space of Kitchen Theatre, these skilled actors do a lot of confiding in the audience, connecting so securely that just a word or a gesture can trigger laughter.

'The Good German' is powerful drama



Playwrights Theatre has raised its mission of developing new works to an unprecedented level. David Wiltse's "The Good German," which made its New Jersey premiere last week at the Madison theater, is an extraordinary piece of writing, brilliantly realized onstage by a powerful cast and capable director James Glossman.

Simply put, it's the best play I've ever seen there and quite certainly the most powerful drama seen in North Jersey all year.

Wiltse hits the ground running with a delicious premise -- a compassionate woman (Jane Keitel) in Nazi Germany begs her husband to house and hide a Jewish man, Wilhelm Braun (Brendan Patrick Burke, artistic director of the Shadowland Theatre in Ulster County, N.Y., which co-produced the play), whose home, business and family were burned to the ground. The husband, Karl (Paul Murphy), is a proto-stereotypical pre-Nazi German -- a stoic scientist and academic guided by practicality. He's also an anti-Semite, but, consumed by love for his Gretel, he melts to her urging. Nevertheless, Karl turns a cold shoulder to his new houseguest.
Braun, cowering in fear of both Karl and the Nazis, accepts a servant's role, although he can't help but bristle at Karl's "logical" bigotry.
"Their (Jews) contributions to the world have been few and almost always by insinuating themselves into the cultures of other people ... Take Einstein ... excellent work, I give you that, but solidly within the German scientific tradition, building on the work of Planck and Maxwell. His education was German, his language was German ..."
"But now he's an American," Braun says.
"Which makes my point," Karl replies.
But Wiltse is just warming up. Early in the first act, the story's focus settles on the men, who forge a brittle and explosive bond. The escalating zeitgeist is represented by Siemi (Walker Jones), a family friend, who's been recruited by the Nazis for his administrative skills. Siemi, a sweet, meek and nervous little man, is appalled by the violence, but gradually caught up in the tidal wave of Nazi propaganda. Unaware that Braun is a Jew, Siemi, too, befriends the homeless houseguest. But, inevitably, the pressure mounts as the Allies close in and the Nazis race to conclude their final solution.

Wiltse blends the dramatic and moral elements like a master chemist, and builds to a powerful climax that is more surprising than shocking. Here again, Wiltse pushes all the right buttons -- a shock ending would have been gratuitous after an evening so rich in character and dialogue. He even manages to slip in some humor in the most unexpected moments, giving the audience a chance to exhale when it needs to most.

Murphy, a founding member of the Lunatic Fringe improv comedy group, is convincing as the humorless and insensitive Karl. But the more fertile roles go to Burke and Jones. With a button chin, a sliver of lower lip and a grey hack of a haircut, Burke forces you to feel the terror of a simple soul trapped in a waking nightmare. Walker tops them both as the quivering Siemi, who is pulled apart at the seams as he realizes the Nazis have tapped into the darkest corner of his character.
"The things I have to do have become the things I want to do ..." he says, sweating on cue. "(Hate is) the most natural emotion of all. Even lust goes away after sex. You can hate all day, all year, you can hate for a lifetime."

It's hard to imagine "The Good German" will escape the notice of A-list actors looking for Tony- or Oscar-worthy roles. Wiltse has written three of them, and if this show doesn't make it to Broadway or Hollywood, then shame on both.

By Marcus Kalipolites
For the Times Herald-Record
September 11, 2006

Ellenville ---- "The Good German" is as dramatic and dynamic a play as any in the modern-day repertoire. And, in its New York premiere, the Shadowland Theatre is staging a powerful production of David Wiltse's contemporary classic in a three-weekend run.

Taking place over several months in the closing days of World War II, the play focuses on the dilemma of an aristocratic German professor who finds himself harboring, at his wife's pleading, a Jewish man. By play's end, the otherwise prejudiced German remains loyal to the promise he made, despite at first not caring to waste any wine on the fugitive.

In the role of Karl, tall and bearded Paul Murphy not only carries himself with dignity but also conveys unconditional love for his wife. But while Karl could not say "No" to Gretel, he is of a different mind with Braun. With the inopportune guest, Karl argues vehemently against the Jewish psyche. He beats the desperate man, forcefully throws him out of the house and yet graciously shares tea and cookies.

In the challenging role of Braun, Brendan Burke creates a person of conflicting behaviors. Obsequious to a fault, Burke's character bows while addressing his host, calls him Herr Professor Doctor and dusts off the professor's favorite chair. Yet, in the draining discussion about Jewry, Burke staunchly defends his character's pride in being a Jew.

As Gretel, Jane Keitel comes across as a sympathetic and caring nurse who, besides trying to save Braun, also works with the Resistance. With a combination of warmth and adoration , she convinces Karl not to be disdainful of people.

If anguish engulfs Karl, Gretel and Braun in each of their dire situations, the most gut-wrenching emotions are revealed by Karl's close friend Siemi. In the role of the reluctant Nazi party member, Walker Jones turns in a brilliant performance. Especially chilling is his character's description of having to order soldiers to shoot homosexuals. While Siemi denies responsibility by closing his eyes, even more compelling is his dilemma of having to finish off a wounded man.

By play's end, suspense finds all three men in the throes of surviving the deception as they deal with the aftermath.

In directing this compelling play, James Glossman creates a medium in which, despite tense episodes, the timing is elastic, deliberate and flawless and the emotions flow in dynamic sync. Also, no small part in establishing the upper-class aura of the professor's home goes to set designer Drew Francis, who included huge ceiling beams, a grandfather clock, a piano and quality furniture.

This masterful piece of drama containing thoughtful insight is not to be missed.




(Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, Conn.; 575 seats; $55 top)


Bonbon adjectives and fizzy feelings come into play when contemplating David Wiltse's "A Marriage Minuet, including words that haven't been used in reviews for awhile, like "delightful." Receiving a summer run in Westport following a preem in Florida, this light, bright comedy takes a look at the dances wedded folk do. There's the gavotte of accommodation, the cakewalk of compromise -- but most of all, on Wiltse's mind, there's the hokey pokey. The story centers on two married couples. Douglas (Douglas Rees), a sardonic professor and failed author, is married to understanding, urbane Lily (Patricia Kalember), who says of her loquacious spouse, "I love it when he speaks in paragraphs." Then there's Rex (Doug Stender), a bestselling hack, and his neglected wife, Violet (Deirdre Madigan). Rex is a notorious womanizer, using his fame and persistence to bed random conquests as his wife accepts the situation (and is secretly relieved to be free of bedroom duty). Rex's rutting nature prompts Douglas and Lily to discuss and later explore the nature of infatuations, flirtations and infidelity. Ultimately, Lily is paired with Rex and Douglas with Violet in a wicked bit of comic business that give new meaning to the phrase multiple orgasms. The play's outline is as old as French farce, and Wiltse and the design team pay homage to that genre with some classic touches, including period dances, formalized banter, even a burst of iambic pentameter. But Wiltse's approach is ultimately modern, powered by a glib style that skips over the tedium of small talk and goes straight to the snappy lines, epigrammatic observations and libidinous foolishness. If some of the technique and stylings evoke writers such as David Ives, Woody Allen, Elaine May and Jules Feiffer, well, it's not such bad company to emulate for such harmless folderol. Show's prospects are promising for theaters filled with auds of tired businessmen and their overlooked wives. Helmer Tracy Brigden stages with briskness, never weighing down any of the fluff with significance or by lingering a second too long for contemplation. Wiltse raises the flag of morality, only to be lower it at half-mast at play's conclusion. Show gets sterling perfs from the quintet of actors. Madigan is a comic find as the long-suffering-but-not-for-long wife, while Rees finds sly laughs as the conflicted professor who discovers it's fun to be fascinated. Stender and Kalember are deft in variations of embarrassment and sophistication. Suli Holum is sharply comic playing a series of "girls" who enter the lives of both men. Jeff Cowie supplies the stylish modular set that evokes the classic and the modern; Ryan Rumery and Daniel Baker keep things buoyant with original music and sound; Howell Binkley keeps the wattage high; and Markas Henry provides just the right character detail, color and pattern in the costumes. Peter Pucci choreographs a number of dances that are as clever and silly as the script. Sets, Jeff Cowie; costumes, Markas Henry; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound and original music, Ryan Rumery, Daniel Baker; production stage manager, Lori M. Doyle. Opened Aug. 5, 2006; reviewed Aug. 6; runs through Aug. 20. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN. Date in print: Wed., Aug. 9, 2006, Gotham

A Marriage Minuet

Will The Real Oscar Wilde Please Stand Up?

by Jerry Layton

CURTAIN CALLS Theatre Critic

Posted October 20, 2005
The mark of a good (or even great) playwright is the ability to write in many genres. Will Shakespeare, who wrote the deep tragedies of King Lear and Romeo and Juliet also wrote the slapstick farces The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Even Neil Simon, today's undisputed laugh master, has leavened his work with many serious moments. Now David Wiltse, who authored last season's powerful The Good German, has stepped up with a change of pace with A Marriage Minuet, now in its world premiere at the Florida Stage in Manalapan. Whether dealing with comedy or tragedy, Mr. Wiltse is a master of words, and he uses them to create bright, brilliant, brittle epigrams that elicit strong and consistent audience laughter. An obvious admirer of Oscar Wilde, Wiltse writes in a style that not only does justice to him, but also to Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Phillip Sheridan as well. Wiltse is a keen observer of humanity, and as such, he cannot help but develop a certain cynicism and an acerbic wit. Minuet is a study of the realities and the illusions of marriage, love, the mating game and sex. It states that morality is an illusion, a self-deception, and that all of us are buffeted by the winds of time and victims of opportunity. Douglas (David Mann) is a pompous, sanctimonious literature professor, who preaches for the survival of morality. He is moral because he has never had the wit or the opportunity to be otherwise. He is a failed "serious" writer, who despises and envies successful "commercial" writers. His frustration has rendered him impotent. Rex (Stephen Schnetzer) is a successful writer and a "lech" supreme. He cannot resist women and he goes through a horde or nameless affairs like a dog in heat. So long as it is mindless sex, he can perform admirably, but the one time real affection enters the picture, he, too, is impotent. Lily (Laura Flanagan), Douglas' wife, is one of two women in the play who prove the superiority of their species. She tolerates his pomposity, nurses his wounded ego, loves him, is a good wife, but even she is open to temptation. Violet (Kate Levy), Rex's wife, is a long-suffering, knowing victim of her husband's infidelity. However, unlike Lily, she takes her own quid pro quo. As he puts it, "I have cheated only seven times. Seven times in 14 years; that's not bad." Like its name, the play starts the first act with an actual minuet and the second with a tongue-in-cheek gavotte. It sets the mood for the delicious fantasy that is to follow. These dances involve much changing of partners, so, too, does the show. Rex lusts for lily, Lily lusts for Rex, Violet lusts for Douglas, and even poor Doug is not immune. It all climaxes (an apt word) in a riotous mock orgy which deals more with the sometimes surprising thoughts of the participants than with the act itself. The show, while marvelously done, may prove challenging to the audience. It is played in an avant garde and highly stylized manner. We are not dealing with actual, real time dialogue, but rather with stream of consciousness. We hear the witty, honest and acidic reactions of the characters. It is one of those he said, she said or what did they really say situations. It is as if each of the characters has a giant cartoon balloon over their heads. The humor is fabulous, but you must stay tuned-in not to miss what is going on. With so much happening on onstage, the dialogue must be presented "trippingly on the tongue," and, at times, the sheer velocity and Ms. Flanagan's small voice loses some of the gags. Autumn Horne does yeoman service in a schizophrenic array of minor characters. The cast is universally superb. And there is a sixth, non-human character who gets some of the best lines. A large, flat screen TV serves as a sort of Greek chorus, giving wry captions and commentaries. It is sort of an electronic Groucho Marx. The setting by Kent Goetz, an opulent living room/cum anything else, is lush, lavish and expensive, especially the handsome hardwood floor. (Thanks executive producer Gulfstream Lumber.) Wendy C. Goldberg, a first-time Florida Stage director, with excellent industry credentials, shows that she is a skilled, talented and innovative craftsman. Our thanks to the management of the Florida Stage for continuing to bring us new theater, fresh theater, challenging theater and creative theater. Keep up the good work.

by Jack Zink
Sun-Sentinel Theater Writer
Posted November 2 2005

Romantic comedies don't get any more clever than David Wiltse's new A Marriage Minuet, a very adult tale of adultery that opens Florida Stage's 19th season. With power back on by now, or soon, this stylish world premiere can charm or titillate as many audiences as possible. Though it's a straight play, the five-member ensemble is choreographed by Karma Camp as much as directed by Wendy C. Goldberg. For instance, the cast enters before dialogue begins to perform a brief minuet, defined by the Harvard Dictionary of Music as an elegant dance movement, with small, quick steps. It's a prelude to the 30 or so small, quick scenes that follow, in which two polar-opposite couples of longstanding acquaintance become entangled in mutual infidelity. What's most inspired about their affairs is that A Marriage Minuet has all its characters speak their minds, not in what normally would be asides and soliloquies, but in the common currency of conversation. Feelings, desires, fears all play out on the surface of every relationship, from the marital institution to the coffee-break quickie. The two breadwinners in Wiltse's tale are writers. Rex Franklin is a crass, commercial success played with politically incorrect swagger by Stephen Schnetzer. Easily infatuated and randy as a gerbil, Rex is tolerated by his wife, Violet, (statuesque Kate Levy), who engages in occasional flings to compensate. They've maintained a cordial friendship with the Zweigs -- nerdy college professor Douglas (David Mann as Wiltse's alter ego) and his wife, Lily (Laura Flanagan as a vital social contrast). Mann and Flanagan are hilarious as the socially correct, sexually mismatched and soon-to-be upended norm. Unlike Rex's popular bodice-rippers, Douglas' intellectual musings haven't sold well. Discussing his latest flop, he tells Rex, "Like all of my books, it was published as a secret document." Soon, Rex's unbridled lust for conquest fixates on Lily, and Kate is similarly drawn to Douglas. But in the meantime, actress Autumn Horne fills in a series of flirtations (Doug) and one-time stands (Rex). Every tryst, regardless of who's involved, includes provocative and highly tempting sexual choreography -- accompanied in each case by ongoing commentary that tosses observations on the human condition like comic bon mots. Kent Goetz's scenery is a deep, rich wood library that extends toward the backstage through entrance corridors for the actors. Lights (Suzanne M. Jones), costumes (Anne Kennedy) and sound (Matt Briganti Kelly) are all slickly conceived and executed to add to the plot's humid atmosphere. In case you're still wondering, this is definitely a grownup appreciation course in extramarital politics. Igniting the libido's imagination, A Marriage Minuet somehow reverses an adage, and makes a few words seem worth a thousand pictures. Director Goldberg stops well short of being salacious, but this dance is suggestive in the extreme.