Match , a comedy-thriller with an old queen who’s not exactly underplayed by Frank Langella, has opened briefly at the Plymouth Theater on Broadway. I must say I wasn’t surprised. If the curtain went up nowadays on anyone straight, it would be a miracle.
The really surprising thing is how such an old-fashioned genre as a comedy-thriller (with Serious Undertones, but not enough to frighten the horses) gets produced in the first place. Stage thrillers went out of date about half a century ago, except in England, where they still have butlers. But how the most accomplished Mr. Langella got himself into the campy mess of Match is another story. He must have liked his role, which is big.
It’s very big, actually-a near monologue for long stretches of yammering about this and that. Tobi is an adorable, aging choreographer and dance teacher at Juilliard living alone in a dumpy-yet cozy!-apartment too far uptown. We know he’s an adorable showbiz fruitcake because, when we first see him, he’s knitting with limp wrists .
Imagine Harvey Fierstein without the frock. But let the author of Match , Stephen Belber, describe Tobi. “Tobi is a wonderfully eclectic mix of femininity and machismo-avoiding ‘androgyny’ as he swings manically between the two,” he writes incomprehensibly in the script. “Were it not for the affectations of his slightly sing-song, Swiss-French-accented voice, you might take him for the son of a Maine pig farmer he really is.”
Well, there’s no arguing with that. As a matter of fact, it was almost my first thought. As Tobi minced around the stage in his baggy shorts with his wonderfully eclectic mix of femininity and machismo, reminiscing in his slightly sing-song Swiss-French-accented way about his days of wine and fromage in Monte Carlo, I couldn’t help thinking there’s something about this man that reminds me of the son of a Maine pig farmer.
Has the world gone totally insane, you ask? Kindly turn to page 192 for the answer.
Anyway, Tobi fusses a lot-too much, really-over a bowl of potato chips and another bowl of Doritos. He can’t make up his mind about them. He’s nervy . He’s expecting guests. So he cuts his fingernails meticulously with a nail clipper-which the audience found as side-splittingly funny as the knitting and the business with the Doritos. Then, if you please, he carefully places the cuttings into a glass vase. Eeeuww! The vase is full of his clippings from les temps perdu . To be honest, the nail business put me off Tobi a lot. But, obviously, we were meant to see him as “a character,” and the audience, thrilled to have another gay pet in its midst, found his fetish charmingly bizarre. But then the intercom buzzed loudly.
Warnin g : Match is not only meant to be a comedy, but a thriller. In order to avoid giving away a spine-tingling moment, those of you who are rushing to see it should resist reading on.
Hello, there! Enter Mike and Lisa from Seattle. Mike is surly and curiously explosive, but Lisa isn’t. Lisa is friendly and wan. They’re a youngish married couple who have come to interview the overexcited Tobi about his ballet career. Lisa says she’s researching a book about the history of classical dance. But all is not as it seems.
It turns out that none of them have had sex in a century. But let’s not go into that now. The sex is just a tease. The important thing is that we soon learn that Mike is a violently homophobic cop.
But Lisa isn’t. Lisa presses on, interviewing the by now understandably skeptical Tobi on a tape recorder. (A previous play by Mr. Belber happens to be called Tape , but I’m sorry to say I missed it.) Here’s the twist: mad Mike is obsessed about whether Tobi, of all people, had a brief fling with a dancer named Gloria in Cuba in 1959.
Why is the night with Gloria different from all other nights? It sure doesn’t have much to do with the history of classical dance. It so happens that Mike is the fatherless son of Gloria. Aha! But we’re not meant to know that yet. Meanwhile, outraged Tobi passionately denies the affair, as well he might. But Mike has secretly bought along a DNA sample kit. As the curtain descends dramatically on Act I, he attacks Tobi with a swab.
It was a tense intermission, I can tell you! Is swishy Tobi the father of homophobe Mike? Will the stolen swab test be a match? How will Tobi and Mike react if it is? And what’s your opinion of Condoleezza Rice? So many questions, so little time. True, we long ago knew that Mike was the lost son of two-way Tobi. But Lisa didn’t.
Lisa doesn’t know what day it is. Poor Lisa. At one desperate point, when Mike is presumably hanging around anxiously at the swab laboratory, Tobi tries to tempt Lisa out of her wan misery with an offer of cunnilingus. I’m very relieved to report that she resisted. I mean, where would it have got her, eh? And where would it have left gay-bashing Mike, who was recently suspended from the police force for excessive violence?
In any case, mad Mike isn’t really a homophobic thug. He turns out to be a sweetheart now that he’s found Pops. He doesn’t even know the result of the swab test yet. But he no longer cares. Tobi admits his guilty secret and even that, many years ago, he paid for an ice-hockey scholarship for Mike to go to college. Ice hockey is the poor man’s ballet. Match then ends happily ever after, with weepy confessions all round.
But wait! There’s a Brian de Palma cliffhanger! Just as Tobi and his proud new son and daughter-in-law are about to leave for a celebratory piece of cake at an all-night diner, a hand comes out of the floorboards and strangles the three of them. I’m kidding! It’s a joke. What happens is, the phone rings with the delayed results from the swab test!
“The forensics guy,” Mike explains to the others, covering the mouthpiece. ” … Really? … O.K. … O.K. Well, I really appreciate it, Jim. Right. I owe you one … O.K. … Bye.”
A long, extremely tense silence follows.
“Is everything O.K.?” Tobi asks anxiously.
“Yeah … I guess,” Mike replies ambiguously. “What do you think?”
“I think everything’s O.K.”
“O.K. then … Everything’s O.K. It’s a match. Just like we thought.”
Ray Liotta is Mike, Jane Adams is Lisa, Mr. Langella is a ham, the moon is blue, and Match was directed by Nicholas Martin.
I would like to pay a brief tribute to a friend of mine-and, more to the point, a loving friend of theater-who died on March 18. Theater folk usually keep their distance from critics (who can blame them?). Joan Cullman didn’t! She was vice chairman of Lincoln Center Theater as well as an independent producer, and she was one of the New Yorkers who made me welcome when I first came here from England.
For one memorable thing, she was dazzlingly beautiful. She looked like a glamorous 20’s flapper with her bob of hair and warm, generous smile. She was ageless. I was always convinced that she must be one of the few truly happy people on earth. She loved to laugh so much that I can hear her now. But if a show of hers received bad reviews, you never heard the end of it.
She read this paper, and if I couldn’t be positive about a new production at her beloved Lincoln Center, I used to call her the night before publication to tip her off. “Uh-oh,” she’d say as soon as she heard my voice.
She was incapable of holding a grudge. “Well, I know you’re going to like one of our shows soon,” she said to me one time. “It’s by Tom Stoppard!”
Her husband of many happy years, Joe, liked to pretend he didn’t see the point of theater. “What’s the point of it?” he’d tease her. “Can anyone tell me?” And Joan would sigh, “Oh, Joe. You know you loved Anything Goes .” And then he’d sing, “I get no kick from champagne” in a terrible, rumbling, rousing voice, and she’d laugh with delight until it seemed the tears would roll.
Life was always better, always good, in Joan’s company.
So while we may, let us delight in loving;
No love is ever long enough.