THEATER REVIEW: Chasing Manet

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(L to R) Robert Christopher Riley, Julie Halston, Lynn Cohen, David Margulies, Vanessa Aspillaga, & Jack Gilpin in the Primary Stages world premiere production of Tina Howe’s “Chasing Manet” with direction by Michael Wilson. The cast also features Tony Award winner Jane Alexander. Photo credit James Leynse.

Some things are simply what they are…and that’s good. Chasing Manet is a fun, poignant, well-acted play in a great new theater space.

Not to give too much away, the play moves along at a brisk pace, ends exactly where I was hoping it would, and kept me smiling and sometimes laughing aloud throughout the performance.

The thing I especially liked was that the characters and ideas here were enough to move us along to a conclusion that worked perfectly. Too many times in my recent memory have there been unneeded subplots to a play, as if just the underlying action or treatise wouldn’t be enough to sustain us for two hours. In Chasing Manet, with the seven actor cast including Vanessa Aspillaga, Julie Halston and David Margulies, switching into at least three different characters, the audience is treated to a tight two hours where Jane Alexander’s famous wry painter “Catherine Sargent” plays off of and to Lynn Cohen’s spirited, ditzy but sparkling “Rennie Waltzer,” a role that nearly brings the house down again and again.

Jack Gilpin and charismatic Robert Christopher Riley should also be given special notice as well as a startling mid-play monologue by Margulies that might very well be some of the best writing I’ve heard on the stage in a long long time.

Chasing Manet is good solid theater from writer Tina Howe and director Michael Wilson at the fantabulous new Primary Stages at 59E59th Street.

Chasing Manet is now in performance through through Saturday, May 2, 2009, at Primary Stages (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).

Ralph Greco, Jr.

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