London Tickets on
Home > Broadway Buzz > Show Reviews > A Naked Girl on the Appian Way August 7 , 2007
Word of Mouth: Xanadu
Word of Mouth: Old Acquaintance
Word of Mouth: 110 in the Shade
Word of Mouth: Radio Golf
Word of Mouth: Deuce
Word of Mouth: LoveMusik
Word of Mouth: Coram Boy
Word of Mouth: Legally Blonde
Word of Mouth: Frost/Nixon
Word of Mouth: Inherit the Wind

Q & A : Max Crumm
PHOTO OP : Les Miz, Mary Poppins, Hairspray & Stomp Perform in Broadway in Bryant Park
FRESH FACE : Lauren Pritchard
PHOTO OP : Jersey Boys and Girls Get Their Grammy
PHOTO OP : Opening Night Party Pics! Adam Pascal & Anthony Rapp Reunite in Rent

A Naked Girl on the Appian Way
by Rob Kendt

©2005 Joan Marcus
Jill Clayburgh in
A Naked Girl on the Appian Way
"So what if it doesn't harmonize?" is nearly the final line, and an apt rhetorical summation, of Richard Greenberg's sleek, inconsequential domestic comedy A Naked Girl on the Appian Way. This shrugging advice to embrace ambiguity is meant in part as encouragement from a published author to a dubious first-time writer. It also happens to function as the tentative olive branch offered by a middle-aged wife to her husband, whose world has been lightly jolted by a series of intimate, unwelcome revelations about nearly everyone he loves, including her.

This hopeful patch-up, though, comes at a meager dramatic cost. The minor family disharmonies sounded by this well-made near-farce have the comforting ring of sitcom bickering, albeit of a flatteringly literate quality. If Greenberg's ambition is to give a loving tweak to a bunch of rich liberals summering in "some Hampton"--a milieu we might jokingly label "incestuous" and be closer to the truth than we suspect--then A Naked Girl can hardly be counted a misfire. It's a pretty modest aim, though, for a playwright who, at his best, can be as probing as he is entertaining.

If the play lacks sufficient friction, director Doug Hughes' otherwise fleet-footed production supplies one noticeable dissonance of its own. As Bess and Jeffrey Lapin, a bien-pensant boomer couple with a trio of multi-racial adopted children, Jill Clayburgh and Richard Thomas make a thoroughly unpersuasive pair. Clayburgh, her soft-edged beauty sweetly sharpened by age, wears her smashing smile as a mask for slow-burning anxiety, but there turns out to be crackling warmth in it, too; while Thomas, as a patriarch fairly exasperated into asserting authority, breaks through his familiar hoarse whimper to something approaching comic ferocity.

Story continues below

Taken individually these are smart and sympathetic performances, but they don't seem to belong in the same play, let alone the same marriage. It's a bit like pairing Carole Lombard with Jimmy Stewart (a match no less wrong for having happened once, in the inaptly titled 1939 weeper Made for Each
©2005 Joan Marcus
Matthew Morrison & Susan Kelechi Watson in
A Naked Girl on the Appian Way
). "Thank you for sticking it out," Jeffrey tells Bess early on, in equivocal tribute to their marital longevity; between Clayburgh and Thomas, the line has heavier overtones of compromise than were probably intended.

The Lapins' union gets a mild acid test with the return of son Thad (Matthew Morrison) and daughter Juliet (Susan Kelechi Watson) from a suspiciously long European vacation. Thad is a dim blond Caucasian with an unflappably sunny disposition, Juliet an edgy scholar with the coffee-colored skin of her Dominican birth parents, but this is not a household where color is supposed to matter. It does, of course, particularly to the other child of this adoptive rainbow coalition, the Asian-extracted Bill (James Yaegashi), who bitterly injects racial animus into nearly every exchange. When a baby named Pearl is presented to him, Bill softens for a goo-goo moment before he suddenly explodes: "As in Harbor?"

The young actors play up sharp, funny contrasts among this unlikely fictive threesome. Kelechi Watson is the subtle and sinuous voice of reason between the studied touchiness of Yaegashi and the sweet, faintly needy obliviousness evoked by Morrison's golden boy.

Dropping in for some gassy comic relief are Hampton neighbors Elaine (Leslie Ayvazian), a self-involved author, and her obstreperous mother-in-law, Sadie (Ann Guilbert), also an author, to whom Greenberg generously, and rather baldly, hands a string of one-liners, as if on index cards. "He didn't turn out very well," she says of her late, unlamented son. "I don't understand why. With the exception of a mother's love, he had every advantage." Or: "My secret is that I've always been both a feminist and a misogynist. I had Camille Paglia beat by decades."

Sadie, whom Guilbert renders with the unapologetic effrontery of the equal-opportunity crank, is also the convenient bearer of a sort of insight: that the world-changing idealism of the 1960s ignored the essential truth that, as Sadie puts it, "Life is tragic. The best you can hope for is a slight upgrade."

This should not, however, be mistaken for Greenberg's thesis. His more sanguine view is encapsulated in the play's title: It refers to a nudist flower child who memorably graced the Lapins' European honeymoon, and who later magically reappears to their backpacking kids. The experimental ethos that shaped this post-nuclear family may have come back to haunt it; but, a few palpitations aside, this ghost brings benediction, not reproach. The final rhetorical shrug for this diverting, low-stakes outing really ought to be: So what's left to harmonize?

A Naked Girl on the Appian Way
By Richard Greenberg
Directed by Doug Hughes
American Airlines Theatre

Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 10/6/2005 3:33:00 PM


(or unsubscribe)
About Us • Feedback  • Privacy Policy • Affiliates • Advertise With Us
©2007, Inc.