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"Anonymous"

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Perhaps I've taken leave of my senses, but I liked Glen Merzer's Anonymous. Yes, it is contrived, full of holes, not weird enough to be absurdist but too absurd for mere comedy. Yet think of it as very small new potatoes that with enough butter (good direction) and salt (good acting) make for pleasant fare. Can Harris Harbison, whose three published novels were commercial failures, live off addressing envelopes in his endless spare time? Can Tim, an old friend from Yale days, keep dropping in to get away from wife and kids and wolf down Harris's peanut butter, which may be the poor garret-dweller's only sustenance? Can Tim get him a copywriter's job at the ad agency he works for, even though Ed Lustig, who hires him, is insulted by Harris all through the job interview?

Can Ed himself do nothing but play with a ball as he loafs at his desk? Can the unwilling Harris become a huge success in advertising? Can he blissfully make out with Donna, a neurotic, thrice-divorced nutritionist, whom Tim set him up with? Can she send Roy, a big-time mafioso, to him with a hefty novel that needs polishing, a manuscript that "the way it stands, gets in the way of the book . . . slam-bang action, with very little punctuation to slow it down"? (How would Donna know such a mafioso in the first place?) And could Michaela, a simple young mother in Missouri (pronounced Missoura), read all three of Harris's novels, write him streams of fan letters, and come by bus to visit him unannounced, her return ticket for the next day already purchased?

I suspect that the answer to all these questions is no, as it may be to the ones raised by the rest of the play. But there is a drollness to it all, a fair number of funny lines (e.g., Harris to the prolix Roy: "I believe in economy of language," to which he replies, "Use as much of that as you want"), a neat construction, a certain teasing ambiguity to all the characters, and a way of making the preposterous slightly plausible.

There is winning work from Chip Zien (Harris), David Arrow (Tim), Betsy Aidem (Donna), Kevin O'Rourke (Lustig), Peter Appel (Roy, particularly grand when interviewed on TV), and Rosemarie DeWitt (as the dopey fan). A wonderfully detailed set by Edward Gianfrancesco and sassy direction by Pamela Berlin do the rest. But I warn you: The colleague sitting behind me had no use whatever for Anonymous.


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