Ludlow Fair / Home Free!

Lanford Wilson
Room One Theatre
Above the Arts

This is the second of the double bills of plays by Lanford Wilson, directed by James Kemp, in Room One Theatre’s Greenwich Village Above the Arts season. It presents two plays first produced at New York’s Caffé Cino in 1965 and 1964.

Ludlow Fair

It is 1965 and, in her shared bedroom in New York, Rachel (Sophie Angelson) is getting neurotically impatient. Her flatmate Agnes (Natalie Webb) has been in the bathroom for ages. It’s not that she’s dying to get in for a pee but because she simply can’t cope with her current situation. She needs someone to talk to and has to make do with talking to herself, even trying a bit of self-psychiatry with word associations and a Rorschach test.

It is funny in a rather forced way—but not for her. She discovered her boyfriend had stolen money from her—$436.38 precisely—and she turned him in to the cops. But did she do the right thing? She still loves him; what will happen?

Rachel knows she’s a mess. “You don’t leave a screwed-up girl alone for three-quarters of an hour,” she screams at Agnes when she finally emerges, nursing a cold.

They do sit down to talk but Agnes, who has seen it all happen before over previous boyfriends—Roger, Lloyd, Joe… six in the last nine months alone—can’t cheer her up. She admits the guy (who stole from her too) was a good-looking stud but Rachel claims it was much more than physical.

So far it is all about Rachel but, when she goes to bed quiet, dowdy Agnes is left at the dressing table putting in rollers and thinking about her boss and the date that she has for lunch with his son tomorrow. He’s not much to speak of, not like the good-looking guys Rachel gets, but she’s a realist though she wants romance. It is she who deserves sympathy rather than Rachel.

This production doesn’t elicit much sympathy for either. The play provides little to suggest why Rachel is such successful at attracting one boy after the other and that weakens the contrast with Agnes. More like an extended improvisation, this earlier work lacks the depth of the plays in the programme with which it plays in repertoire.

Home Free!

This is another two-hander that begins with Jackson Milner’s Lawrence delivering a passionate lecture on astronomy (The Pleiades) to two small children, represented by small, empty chairs. One is a boy called Claypone, one Edna, a girl who sometimes gets sent out of the room. It’s an acceptable convention instead of casting tots: but actually that is not the situation.

They have been waiting for someone’s return to tell them about outside adventures. It is pregnant Joanna (Samantha Dakin), who comes back saying their landlord wants them out before they have the baby. She seems to be Laurence’s sister but has told the neighbours she’s his wife and though she treats the tots as though they are there they are all in the imagination.

Lawrence it seems never leaves this room of toys and childhood, here making models and playing mummies and daddies with his sister. But it is a fantasy that has become physical. That is not an imaginary baby and, when danger looms, imaginary messengers can’t bring help, it is set for tragedy.

This is an intriguing play that keeps you wondering what is going on. Some may catch on quickly when Laurence explodes in a paper tearing frenzy to end his lecture but his asking the children “Did that scare you?” makes it just seem extravagantly eccentric. The way in which these actors maintain their offsprings’ apparent existence keeps their make-believe world seem theatrically real for much longer—and deciding whether it's incest happening here acts as a distraction.

Wilson is experimenting with how an audience will interpret but offers not much more than an anecdotal story. Yet it is interesting to see such relatively early writing from a dramatist who was to develop work that goes much deeper.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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