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THEATER REVIEW

Witty 'Goshen' Examines Art, Commerce

February 16, 1996|SCOTT COLLINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You don't have to be a writer to appreciate "Weekend in Goshen," Chuck Rose's thoughtful new comedy at Theatre Geo, though it might help.

The protagonist, the aptly named Art (a nicely exasperated Harry Victor), is a former Wall Streeter who chucked yuppiedom and moved to California to work on a novel. Three years later, he's visiting his parents' comfortable New Jersey home with half a novel and no money.

Ostensibly in town for his sister's wedding, Art is torn between devotion to his writing and the good life flaunted by his shallow, pretentious mother (Diana Bellamy) and real estate developer father (Frank Farmer). In a late speech, the budding Faulkner compares his predicament to that of the biblical Israelites, who thrived in Goshen at the expense of their religious and cultural identities.

The age-old conflict between art and commerce resonates deeply, especially in a town filled with struggling writers and actors. "Weekend in Goshen" treats the theme with wit and a certain amount of wistfulness. Those qualities, along with one unexpectedly great performance in director Sharon Ernster's efficient production, help compensate for some nagging flaws in construction and tone.

The great performance comes from Jeffrey Arbaugh, who is wickedly funny as Art's sleazy brother Gary. Brazen, oversexed, cruelly mocking, Gary is a difficult character to make sympathetic. Yet Arbaugh turns him into a slick, physical, eternally self-assured salesman. You laugh at his sadistic humor even as you want to punch him.

The other characters are less vivid, less because of the performances than because of the script. "Weekend in Goshen" takes awhile to get going and even then relies heavily on coincidence and exaggeration to fire the action.

With his girlfriend Kim (Jennifer Kays) in tow, Art isn't home 10 minutes before he answers the door and finds--lo and behold!--his former flame Lisa (Maia Winters), who is catering the wedding but whose real role consists of complicating the plot. And although the part seems intended as a showcase for Bellamy, Art's mother seems a stereotypical Jewish mother, given to uttering sitcom lines like, "All we have is tonic water, but it's Schweppes."

Rose may slightly romanticize his theme by implying that writers and other creative types establish a deeper connection with the world than others do. But for all of its throwaway one-liners and plot incongruities, there's much about "Weekend in Goshen" that's sincere and heartfelt.

The technical credits, including Ernster's austerely elegant set, are above-par for a 99-seat production.

* "Weekend in Goshen," Theatre Geo, 1229 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Ends Feb. 29. $14. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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