June 22, 2016

"Out of the Mouths of Babes" Ain't P.C. But It's Hard to Resist Its Old-Fashioned Charm

The four women who gather for the funeral of a man they all once loved in Out of the Mouth of Babes wouldn't pass the Bechdel test. That feminist litmus test requires that female characters talk to one another about something other than a man. But all the women do in Israel Horowitz's daffy comedy that opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre this week is talk about the late lover they shared.

They meet in an art-filled Parisian loft with large casement windows overlooking the Seine. The apartment (beautifully designed by Neil Patel, who uses real artworks by celebrities including Rosie O'Donnell and Joel Grey) was the longtime home of the deceased, who has died at the age of 100 and is never called by his name but only referred to, almost reverentially, as "Him."

Over eight decades, he lived there with a succession of young women, whom he met in the classes he taught at the Sorbonne, seduced, married and then cheated on before repeating the cycle.

And yet, wealthy, charming and apparently great in bed, he has—in what can only be described as a male fantasy—remained the highlight of each woman's life, despite the fact that each is accomplished in her own right.

The first to arrive are second wife Evelyn and Evie, the woman who replaced her and whom he nicknamed Snookie. They're eventually joined by Janice, who tried to kill herself by leaping out of one of the big windows when she realized her time with him was up; and Marie-Belle, the last of his concubines and perhaps the one who understood him best.

There isn't much of a story line. Instead the women just trade memories of their days with him and zingers about one another. The play is chocked full of one liners so determined to elicit laughs that you can almost hear the rim shot in the background as they're spoken. But no matter. The lines are funny and, under Barnet Kellman's affable direction, the women deliver them with pizazz.

That's no surprise since two of the women are Judith Ivey, who plays Snookie; and Estelle Parsons, who plays Evelyn. Both of these theater greats have starred in past Horowitz plays (Ivey in the two-hander Park Your Car In Harvard Yard opposite Jason Robards and Parsons in My Old Lady) and each knows to how to put just the right spin on what Horowitz has written for her to say.

Their cast mates, the Cherry Lane's artistic director Angelina Fiordellisi as Janice and the charming Francesca Choy-Kee as Marie-Belle, aren't playing on quite as high a level but they all look to be having great fun.

The audience has fun too. The body language of the two men sitting in front of me indicated that they felt they were wasting their time during the first few minutes of the play. But by intermission they were falling all over themselves laughing just like the rest of us.

Out of the Mouths of Babes is silly and misogynistic (even the reference to "babes" in the title is condescending) and it doesn't even pretend to offer any deep truths about life, love or anything else. But I still dare you not to have a good time.

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