We gave it a B
John Guare has a knack for spinning yarns. The 75-year-old playwright brings his innate gifts as a raconteur to his acting debut in his tripartite collection of one-acts, 3 Kinds of Exile (playing at Off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company through June 23). Each act focuses on a real-life émigré from Eastern Europe in the middle of the 20th century who faces an uneasy transition to his or her adopted homeland. And each takes a slightly different stylistic approach to its subject.
The curtain raiser is a monologue, delivered with crisp efficiency by Martin Moran, detailing a second-hand story about Czech filmmaker Karel Reisz. It seems that a painful and possibly psychosomatic rash has spread over virtually all of his body and rendered his skin the color of Tandoori chicken. It’s a fascinating appetizer, a kind of medical ghost story.
In the middle act, by far the strongest segment of the evening, Guare and Omar Sangare stand behind (and walk about) two podiums to relate the remarkable, too-good-to-be-true story of Elzbieta Czyzewska, a famed Polish film actress who hastily moved to New York in the 1960s after marrying New York Times writer David Halberstam and never recovered. Hers is a fascinating tale of missed opportunities and tantalizing proximity to fame. To cite Guare’s most famous play, she managed to remain one degree away from the notoriety she hoped to maintain in America, giving a boost to the careers of William Styron, Sally Kirkland, Meryl Streep, and Guare himself without the spotlight ever lingering long in her direction. (Seeing her portrait projected, you can’t help but think she’s…a dead ringer for Helen Mirren.) Despite some verbal stumbles, Guare proves a natural onstage performer, delivering the ultimate cocktail-party show-stopper.
The show’s final segment follows Witold Gombrowicz (David Pittu), a Polish-born literary type who settled in Argentina and became a leading figure in the emerging theater of the absurd. Guare adopts a Brechtian approach — complete with musical numbers (by Josh Schmidt) and stylized stage directions — that feels appropriate to the subject but is exhausting to watch. The end result is a kind of manic tedium that undercuts the touching portraits that come before it. B