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Stage Review : 'Harry, Thelma' Aren't Out Of The Woods

October 22, 1987|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

Melvin Bernhardt, a good director, and Doris Roberts and Bill Macy, good actors, have gotten themselves involved in a play called "Harry and Thelma in the Woods" at the Mayfair Theater in Santa Monica.

The story concerns a suicidal husband, Harry, and a castrating wife, Thelma. Harry tries to leave Thelma after 25 years of marriage but the alternative, a young woman named Choo-Choo (whom we don't meet), is worse, so he ends up back in Thelma's power.

Pure Strindberg. Yet playwright Stan Lachow offers the story as a comedy, as if there was something lovable about this grim pair. Thelma's insults are supposed to prove how much she is in love with life. Harry's complaints prove what a mensch he is.

We don't see it. We do see that the play has been constructed according to the laws of sitcom--every third line a gag, whether it has anything to do with the conversation or not. However, in sitcom there is usually a plot to be advanced. This is essentially two acts of a husband and wife abusing one another. The same, perhaps, could be said of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" This play is not "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

The actors do what they can. Macy looks dolorous, Roberts looks spunky and director Bernhardt tries to think of something for them to do for two hours. David Potts' setting represents the woods where Harry and Thelma celebrate all their big life-changes. It's not very convincing, but it's more convincing than the play.

Performances are Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7:30 p.m. with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $15-$20. Second Street and Santa Monica Boulevard; (213) 451-0621.

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