'Out of the Mouths of Babes': Theater Review
Oscar-winner Estelle Parsons and two-time Tony winner Judith Ivey star in Israel Horovitz's new comedy about four women who gather for their former lover's funeral.
The new comedy by veteran playwright-screenwriter Israel Horovitz (Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, North Shore Fish and dozens of others) is set in a loft apartment in Paris' 19th arrondissement. But the action might just as well take place in Boca Raton and serve as an unofficial heir to The Golden Girls. Depicting the comically tense meeting among four women of vastly different ages who all once loved the same man, sometimes simultaneously, Out of the Mouths of Babes is pure theatrical sitcom, albeit an amusing one.
The play is also very well performed, no surprise considering that its cast includes two of our finest stage actresses, Estelle Parsons and Judith Ivey. Respectively, they play 88-year-old Evelyn (Parsons is herself 88, although she seems two decades younger) and Evvie, 68, who find themselves reuniting in the apartment of their recently deceased, 100-year-old former paramour, a professor at the Sorbonne, to attend his funeral. They are soon joined by yet two more of his loves: 58-year-old Janice (Angelina Fiordellisi) and 38-year-old French-African Marie-Belle (Francesca Choy-Kee).
Evelyn and Evvie display a barely contained antipathy toward each other, trading barbs about their respective roles in their former lover's life. But they share a common concern for the emotionally fragile Janice, who long ago survived an attempt to commit suicide by leaping out of the apartment's large French windows.
Marie-Belle seems the happiest of the quartet, despite the fact that she was still involved with the dead man, some six decades her senior, when he passed away. That may be because she still feels his presence, talking to his spirit frequently and even laughing hysterically when he apparently tickles her from beyond the grave.
The one-liners, many of the ribald variety, come fast and furious, including an extended exchange revolving around cunnilingus, a word with which the English language-challenged Marie-Belle is unfamiliar.
"It's an ancient language," Evvie informs her.
Following the funeral at Pere Lachaise Cemetery — Evvie is impressed that the professor is buried "only 187 graves away from Oscar Wilde" — the women gather once more at the apartment, where they receive several indications, including one hilarious surprise appearance that won't be revealed here, that death is not necessarily the end.
It's all as supremely silly as it sounds, but under the expert direction of Barnet Kellman — whose TV sitcom credits include Murphy Brown and Mad About You — the play generates plenty of laughs. It's the sort of farce that decades ago would have enjoyed a nice Broadway run, with the matinee ladies especially eating it up. Now it feels like summer stock in the heart of the city.
Venue: Cherry Lane Theatre, New York
Cast: Francesca Choy-Kee, Angelina Fiordellisi, Judith Ivey, Estelle Parsons
Playwright: Israel Horovitz
Director: Barnet Kellman
Set designer: Neil Patel
Costume designer: Joseph G. Aulisi
Lighting designer: Paul Miller
Sound designer: Leon Rothenberg
Presented by Cherry Lane Theatre, in association with Julie Crosby, Margarida De Brito, David Youse