The Boston Globe
April 7, 1980

   Arts / Film
"Terry by Terry"

By Kevin Kelly - Globe Staff

Interesting work from a promising playwright - "TERRY BY TERRY" - Play in two parts by Mark Leib, directed by John Madden, sets by Andrew Jackness, costumes by Nan Cibula, lighting by Paul Gallo, produced by the American Repertory Theater, world premiere, in repertory at the Loeb Drama Center, through July.

The second production by the American Repertory Theater, at the Loeb, is a new work called "Terry by Terry," which is two entirely separate plays curiously related to each other.  Written by Mark Leib (and separately titled "Terry Won't Talk" and "Terry Rex"), the first is a surreal comedy about cross-purpose identity, the second is a character study about the playwright who wrote the comedy.  Leib's double-bill is dramatically charged and certainly provocative.  But if "Terry Won't Talk" is right on target and exhilarating in its satire, "Terry Rex" is often shaky in craftsmanship and loud in its pretentiousness.

Yet through all this (even above the evening's echoes from Strindberg, Beckett, Ionesco and Albee), let me make it clear: Mark Leib is unquestionably talented.  He's headlong in his intent and with speed to spare.

In "Terry Won't Talk," which is a very funny development of the Good News / Bad News syndrome (carried from family to classroom), Terry Blade, a grade school kid, falls mysteriously silent.  He refuses to talk.  He sits at the dining room table staring at his plate, his parents and his sister.  His father's attempts to bully him into speech fall not only on deaf ears but locked lips.  His mother, guilty of an adulterous liaison of which Terry is aware, is more understanding.  So is Terry's just-like-you-and-me- kid, street- talking school principal.\

Terry sees his classmate Kathy beaten up by his friends and his sister.  And he says, and does, nothing. He simply lets others talk about him and his passivity.  Finally, his parents put him away, consigning him to an institution in the care of a Mrs. Proxy.  And, wordless, he goes.  All through this soundless, kindergarten Gethsemane, Terry merely stares soullessly at what is happening, and becomes subject to the interpretations of those around him. I f silence is golden, his becomes a quickly bartered oracle.

Like the retarded hero in Jerzy Kosinski's "Being There," his thoughts - which are his identity - are interpreted according to the needs, desires, guilts, evasions, myths, paranoia of others.  He becomes not who he is but who it is the "world" wants him to be.  And playwright Leib, shadowing his little, overalled hero in a Beckettian corner, offers neither explanation nor solution.  "Terry Won't Talk" is a little schematic, sure, but it is also (quietly) brilliant.

In "Terry Rex" silence has been sent scurrying, not just by articulation but also by nonstop rage.  Terry is a bearded playwright suffering writer's block, except, in his outrageously intellectualized superiority, he refuses to call it that.  Instead, he is trying to "induce hallucinations through fatigue," to exhaust himself into dreaming an idea, a line, a phrase, a metaphor that may give him a play.  He lives with a painter named Kathy (a girl named Kathy, you will recall, is beaten - has "her face erased" - in the first play), who is so long-suffering as to be unbelievable.

Terry is an egomaniacal rotter, a whining, sarcastic, destructive lout whose bastardly behavior has cost him most of his friends.  Passing in and out of sleep, as well as in and out of roles and speeches from favorite plays and movies (from Ibsen to Jean- Luc Godard), he verbally whiplashes Kathy almost without letup.  He does the same to two friends who stop in on separate visits, both of whom he considers dropouts from the glorious literary revolution they had once all sought.

Terry's real problem, though, is the relation of his chaotic life to his art (he has written a number of plays, including "Terry Won't Talk" and something called "Territory").

Leib's writing of this material is so "young," visionary, then high-minded cynical that it comes close to parody.

Then, too, there are technical problems in "Terry Rex" that distract from its ranting pitch, I mean, now, aside from the rant itself.  If Terry as a character stretches credibility, so do the conversations he shares with his two friends, most of which would have to have been part of the talk in their past.  And, during a crucial exposition in which the audience learns about him from others, are we really to believe that Terry falls dead asleep and can't be awakened by anything less than a blast?  Also Kathy is overly-conveniently spirited out of the scene in one instance.

But worse than all that is the heavy, dripping eloquence of hotbed articulation about art and life and promise and compromise.  To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, that kind of Yawp is a For a Very Young Man.  Apart from that, Mark Leib can write, and, clearly, has a mind of his own.

The plays have been well directed by John Madden, although the rage of "Terry Rex" is allowed too much steam.  And, specifically, in the whoosh of all that vaporizing emotion, Terry is very badly played by Robertson Dean, who chews his words, then spits them out while doing an arthritic dance meant to convey "mad genius."

Lisa Sloan is wonderful as Kathy in the second play, but Marianne Owen wheels through the aggressiveness of Terry's friend in lurching overdrive.  Kenneth Ryan is stiff but passable as the other friend.  All the roles are effectively handled in "Terry Won't Talk," notably Mark Linn-Baker's speechless Terry, Richard Grusin as his father, Elizabeth Norment as his mother, and Carmen de Lavallade as Mrs. Proxy.

The sets and lighting are fine.

For whatever the defects, "Terry by Terry" is interesting work by a promising young playwright.  Surreal art and real life are often one and the same, if not one in the same.