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The Keen Company Presents "Such Things Only Happen in Books" at Theatre Row
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The Keen Company Presents "Such Things Only Happen in Books" at Theatre Row

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Keen Company
Such Things Only Happen in Books

Five Short Plays
By Thornton Wilder
(Thornton Wilder Bio)
Directed by Carl Forsman and Jonathan Silverstein

At the
Clurman Theatre
(Theatre Row Website)
410 West 42nd Street

Kathleen Butler, Kevin Hogan, Clayton Apgar,
Paul Molnar, Pepper Binkley, Sue Cremin

Keen Artistic Director: Carl Forsman
Keen Exec. Director: Wayne Kelton
Stage Manager: Jess Johnston
Scenic Design: Sandra Goldmark
Costume Design: Theresa Squire
Lighting Design: Josh Bradford
Musical Arrangements: Brian Cimmet
Technical Director: Marshall Miller
Press: Tommy Wesely: Richard Kornberg & Assoc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 6, 2009

To sit through 95 minutes of this Thornton Wilder, five-short-play marathon, was almost painful. This was like a suburban church morality play, presented with no engaging qualities, none. The five plays recycled the six actors, in slightly different costumes and slightly different stage designs. In between, stage-hands appeared with the actors, and various props were removed or re-arranged. The audience was thin, and the experience thinner. However, up front I would like to commend the actors for their valiant attempt to make the material entertaining and provoking. Carl Forsman (Artistic Director of the Keen) and Jonathan Silverstein direct the short works, apparently for “biblical inspiration” (two plays based on the Book of John) and “sincerity” (their mission). Their mission also mentions focusing on early 20th Century American playwrights. From this writer’s perspective, however, these Wilder plays were a morose and stuffy choice.

Now the Servant’s Name Was Malchus was bland and vague, and program notes suggest this was a gathering in the Garden of Gethsemane, in which Jesus gathered with his disciples. The Angel that Troubled the Waters, the other biblical play, and unfortunately presented last, a soporific choice, is actually noted in the program as “slightly more oblique”. More than oblique. Cement Hands was about a wealthy, spendthrift fiancé being revealed to his beloved, just in time, at a restaurant, so she could watch him perspire and shake at the thought of putting down a dime. Such Things Only Happen in Books was a relatively lengthy play, and only one of two that often captured my imagination, about a husband playing solitaire, bantering about monotonous, adulterous trysts in literature, while his passive wife awaits the upstairs doctor’s arrival for a provocative, secretive kiss. The other somewhat captivating play was In Shakespeare and the Bible, in which the theme of revealed character flaws was revisited, with an estranged aunt, her niece, her niece's suitor, and a maid.

All six characters found at least a moment in the spotlight, and those moments were appreciated. I hope to revisit this Company in a more compelling production.

Kathleen Butler and Clayton Apgar
Courtesy of Theresa Squire

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at