April 7, 1980
"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
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
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
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
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.