Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Luv" Leaves 'Em Laughing

Cleveland Press October 14, 1967

"Luv," Murray Schisgal's antic farce in which he holds an amusement park mirror up to life, opened at the Play House Drury Theater last night and the Play House in this, its second production, may have a show that will satisfy its customers.

Certainly the opening night audience howled appreciatively as three miserable souls sought company, misery being the company-loving thing that it is, and explored the various child-like conceptions of love.

Schisgal's script is an eminently playable one at many levels -- as farce, as comedy both low and high, as satire, as vaudeville, even as theater of the absurd.

There is an underlying level of perceptiveness in the play as it explores all of our poses and the strange gratification people have in being unhappy, or at least in thinking they are unhappy.

IT ALSO CAN BE played at the level of sheer farce, all bounce and zaniness, funny stage business and one-line gags.

The Play House production is mostly at the latter level, sometimes the former, depending on which performer you keep your eyes on.

Take the first character you see, Harry Berlin, played by Richard Oberlin. He is a disheveled weirdo, a man contemplating suicide but whose trip over a bridge railing simply swings him around an upright pole and back onto the bridge again.

But he has more immediate ways of escaping from life and its responsibilities. Such as falling unconscious or becoming momentarily deaf, dumb or blind -- one at a time.

Life has been pretty much a downhill trip for him and the descent began when a dog walked up to him in the park one day and not only laughed at him but mist took his leg for a fire hydrant.

NOW WHILE there might be plenty of reason to play this character broadly, Oberlin offers him as almost a solemn man, and quite rightly so I think. A certain blandness is proper and it makes his utterances that much funnier.

And so to the second character. Milt Manville, played by Jonathan Bolt, is by day a natty-looking, successful businessman who by night pursues his second occupation which is fishing junk out of rubbish containers for his bric-a~brac business. Milt's problem is that he is in love, but since his wife won't divorce him he can't marry the woman of his affections.

Milt recognizes Harry as a school friend of 15 years back, convinces him that what is missing from Harry's life is love and connives to pair him off with his own wife.

Bolt makes Manville a busy, more nervous person than one might envision him, but a highly comic one.

Then there is Ellen Manville, portrayed by Elizabeth Lowry, a woman so brainy she is not only smarter than men but can perceive what bums they are. She charts her sex life and finds it lacking and for all of her brains is in love with the idea of being in love.

MISS LOWRY is attractive and plays the role pretty much straight away for laughs. But the lines suggest a kookiness that does not always emerge in the performance.

Director Henry Butler has opted for a busy production that moves briskly and is filled with comic invention. Paul Rodgers' bridge set spans the Drury stage and looks like one you might jump from.

Schisgal's play is darn near fool-proof and the mixture of styles doesn't hurt it. If your only acquaintance with "Luv" is with its ill-conceived movie version a trip to the Play House is worthwhile to see how so simple a show can be so funny.