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Landscape of the Body

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What drives somebody to write a play awash in decapitation, low-end porn, and kiddie hustlers? New York in the seventies, that’s what. In Landscape of the Body, John Guare mixed his experience of Beame-era Greenwich Village with the day’s seedier headlines to give the old moving-to-the-big-city story a distinct 1977 flavor. Betty (Lili Taylor), sent from Maine to retrieve Rosalie (Sherie Rene Scott), inherits her sister’s life, job, and coke-laden Christopher Street apartment when Rosalie is killed by an errant bicyclist. Then come the muggings, the loonies, the bodies in the river . . .

Guare’s depiction of New York as decadent capital of a fallen world may no longer apply, but Michael Greif’s revival shows that it hasn’t lost a dark allure. The characters discover the world to be a lonely, brutal place; peace and comfort are fleeting. It sounds gloomy, but Greif draws laughs from the somewhat overwritten script, thanks to effervescent performances from Paul Sparks as an erratic oddball cop and Scott as the doomed sister. Whether strung out or beatifically serene, Rosalie is a knotty role. But Scott has the easy charisma and range (broad and growing) to make the work seem effortless. Does living in New York seem less exciting these days? She’s a reminder that it still has its compensations.

At Signature Theatre Company
Through May 28


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