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Good Intentions Go Far Wrong in 'A Distance'

February 27, 1996|Jan Herman

NEWPORT BEACH — Calcutta is not all this production is far from.

Director Mary Sullivan Slack's program note says that P.J. Barry "traveled all the way . . . from his home in New York to attend our opening performances" of his play, "A Distance From Calcutta," being given its Orange County premiere at the Newport Theatre Arts Center.

P.J. Barry--presumably no relation to J.M. Barrie of "Peter Pan" fame--must have had pixie dust in his eyes when he bought his airline ticket--or had something significant to do here besides attend this sincere but amateurish production. The show isn't worth a trip down the block, let alone 3,000 miles. Neither is the play.

Then again, a writer who begins with a prim, young old-maid-to-be searching in her bra and exclaiming indignantly, "A ladybug bit me on my bosom. It invaded my privacy," is probably game for anything.

Strike "probably."

The simple-minded dialogue gets broader and more peculiar. In a Freudian slip, Maggie (Linda Van Dine) calls her bosom a balloon. Barry then extends the slippage to her stout New England mother, Mama Conroy (Louise Tonti), who replies with utter propriety, "I hope you don't swell up dear, because your balloons are big enough."

But "A Distance From Calcutta" is not a farce--if only it were. Unfortunately, Barry has written a bizarre kitchen-parlor drama with lame gag lines, lots of food (mostly pies; the cast is sure to put on weight) and a refrain that gives the play its title.

Whenever Mama Conroy sees any leftovers on her grown son's plate or his fiancee Ann's or his mentally challenged friend Buddy's or Maggie's, Mama Conroy reminds them of "the starving children in Calcutta."

Her reminders make about as much sense as the rest of the play, the second act of which strains credibility even further in an awkward attempt to establish a serious theme.

The overarching symptom of good intentions gone wrong, however, is that in tone and ambience "A Distance From Calcutta" gets no closer to the 1920s in which itis set than do Maggie's and Ann's nicely made flapper-style dresses.

The play might more aptly be called "A Distance From the '20s."

* "A Distance From Calcutta," Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends March 9. $13-15. (714) 631-0288. Running time: 1 hours, 59 minutes.

Linda Van Dine: Maggie

Louise Tonti: Mama Conroy

Mitchell Nunn: Buddy McCormack

Joe Finnegan: John

Cheryl Etzel: Ann

A Newport Theatre Arts Center production of a play by P.J. Barry. Director: Mary Sullivan Slack. Producer: Rae Cohen. Set design: William Cole. Lighting design: Chris Garbacz. Costume design: Slack. Stage manager: Dolly Ross.

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