Friday, July 17, 2009

The Absence of a Cello

The description in the program notes that Absence of a Cello is a "refreshingly literate comedy" that starts out targeting "individuality versus conformity" but evolves into "an ingeniously conceived comical discussion of honesty and truth."

Don't be scared.

I know, it sounds highbrow. Intellectual. Maybe a little too smart for a fun night out (I sometimes think this is the same reason I don't get too many dates). But you're missing out if you miss this hilarious and well-acted show.

Yes, the main character, Andrew Pilgrim (Kevin Labrum) is a brilliant scientist applying for a job at a major corporation. Yes, his wife Celia Pilgrim, played by Jennifer Bertino Polidori, is a brilliant scholar of medieval literature. But they both do an excellent job of keeping their characters relatable; it may help that the plot of the play involves these two geniuses trying to pass themselves off as average Joes. Moreover, the other characters keep the show down to earth -- most notably Andrew's sister, Marian Jellicoe (Karen Holcomb), the wild child of the family, and jovial, rhyming company man Otis Clifton (Kevin Tuck), who comes to check out the family and see if they fit the corporate mold. The Pilgrims' kleptomaniac neighbor, Emma Littlewood (Kathleen Bailey), keeps everyone on their toes. And Ben Ulmen draws real sympathy as Littlewood's son Perry, who is hopelessly in love with the Pilgrims' daughter Joanna (Amanda Jacob).

The show is impeccably cast, and it's amazing to watch the interactions between the actors. Labrum and Bertino Polidori establish some excellent marital tension, while the witty flirtation between Holcomb and Tuck is absolutely delightful. The show's pacing is tight, and the comic delivery of its many one-liners is beautiful. And while the laughs come mainly from the dialogue, director Anthony Polidori and the cast paid plenty of attention to the potential for physical humor; Ulmen, Labrum, Tuck and Holcomb all have some nice moments where simple gestures and expressions garnered a lot of laughs because their movements betrayed what they were really thinking.

Absence of a Cello is smart, funny, clever and moving. It would be deceptive to leave out "smart," "clever," and "moving." But it would be a shame to miss out on how funny it is because you fear you're not up for something smart or clever. Take it from me -- the show is also very accessible. And it's definitely worth seeing.

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