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December 4, 1997

Updating the Marx Brothers

The Arts

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/updating_the_marx_brothers_19971205

Left to right, Michael Preston, Paul Magid and Howard JayPatterson of The Flying Karamazov Brothers.
As a reward to all of us lowbrows for sitting through any numberof very serious, avant-garde dramas and trying to figure out thepsychological motivations of the characters, the Mark Taper Forum hasrelented and given us "Room Service."

The wild and crazy farce presents the Flying Karamazov Brothers,who juggle clubs and repartee at their usual manic pace, and if theydrop a ball or pun here and there, who has time to notice?

The play-within-a-play plot line, if anyone really cares, is aboutthe four brothers rehearsing a play, in which they encounter the samemisfortunes as the characters they are portraying in "Room Service."

In both instances, the deadbeat brothers encounter irateproducers, apoplectic hotel managers, pseudo-doctors and anuncomprehending outside world determined to foil their artisticplans.

Coherent analysis of the goings-on is not furthered by the factthat each of the four (and actually unrelated) brothers -- PaulMagid, Howard Jay Patterson, Michael Preston and Sam Williams --portrays half a dozen characters, aided by instant costume changes,cross-dressing and rapid gender changes.

Thanks to bouncing credit cards and previous unpaid bills, thebrothers are denied sustenance by the hotel's room service, and theperpetually gnawing hunger leads to lines such as "complimentarycontinental breakfast, served on tectonic plates" and "we are forcingour opinion down his throat, that's all we got around here."

"Room Service" is adapted from the 1937 Broadway hit by JohnMurray and Allen Boretz, and the following year's movie, starring theimmortal Marx Brothers.

It's uncertain how many contemporaries have actually seen the 1938film, but there was a certain amount of carping by audience membersand critics that the present production didn't live up the Marxianoeuvre.

One suspects that time and nostalgia have falsified memories. Theauthoritative Movie Guide grants the movie only two stars (out of apossible five) and describes it as "wasting the talents of theBrothers Marx in an insufficiently absurd film."

And no less an authority than Groucho himself considered the moviea failure.

The current "Room Service" updates the scenario with a few mostlyfunny, contemporary shticks, including the appearance of billionaireBill Gates, who rescues the production but in turn buys the TaperForum and fires artistic director Gordon Davidson.

Robert Woodruff, better known at the Taper for such edgy plays as"In the Belly of the Beast" and "A Lie of the Mind," directs the zanygoings-on at breakneck speed.

"Room Service" runs through Dec. 21 at the Taper Forum. Forinformation, call (213) 628-2772.


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