(Debra Wise, Paula Plum, and Sarah Hickler in GSC’s Out of the Mouths of Babes)
by Mike Hoban
Out of the Mouths of Babes – Written & Directed by Israel Horovitz; Set Design by Jenna McFarland Lord; Costume Design by Jane Alois Stein; Lighting Design by Russ Swift; Sound Design by David Remedios. Presented by the Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester through September 2
Can four women, each of whom was the live-in lover of the same recently deceased man for prolonged periods of time, co-exist under the same roof – even if it’s to attend his funeral?
That’s the premise of Israel Horovitz’s latest work, “Out of the Mouths of Babes,” an airy but laugh-filled comedy now making its New England premiere at Gloucester Stage after a sold-out Off-Broadway run last summer. Complicating matters is the fact that the deceased had cheated on and left all of the assembled women (except possibly the final wife) for other women now sharing the same apartment – the one in which they had all lived in with him. So if all that tension sounds like a springboard for a comedic jousting match, you’re correct, and Horovitz (who also directed) assembles some of Boston’s top female talent to deliver the goods.
Set in Paris, where the former professor of literature at the Sorbonne has passed away at the age of 100, Horovitz introduces us to Evelyn, his razor-tongued 88-year second wife (crustily played by Debra Wise); Evvie (Paula Plum), a 68-year old failed screenwriter but enormously successful sitcom writer who was the only one of the four to never marry him (or anyone else, we discover); Wife # 3 Janice (Sarah Hickler), the 58-year old depressive whose primary coping mechanism seems to be heading for the nearest window to jump out of at the first sign of bad news; and Marie-Belle (Obehi Janice), a bubbly 38-year old Senegalese/French woman who still communes with her ex-husband despite his lacking an earthly presence. A fifth woman also looms in the background in the form of Snookie, the (never named) professor’s first wife, who had committed suicide at the age of 30, but not before penning a seminal work on depression, The Voice Inside, which Janice – not surprisingly – has read over 30 times.
The narrative centers on a series of reveals as the ex-lovers club waits for the next day’s funeral, and there are some whoppers. Upon meeting, Evelyn and Evvie engage in some comically explosive initial skirmishes, as Evelyn discovers that Evvie was actually the one that her husband had cheated on her with (and left her for), when Evvie divulges that “Snookie” was the pet name that he had given her (and which she loathed). After recovering from the shock of meeting her nemesis face to face, Evelyn gleefully exacts revenge by informing Evvie that “Snookie” was also the name of his first wife, whose existence Evvie was completely unaware of, which generates even more sparks. The plot is loaded with such dramatic surprises, and Horovitz’ gift for well-crafted zingers – particularly in the hands of pros like Wise and Plum – keeps “Babes” from drifting into “Golden Girls” sitcom territory.
The main thread running through the plot is that despite the knowledge that he was a serial cheater, as well as something of a predator (all of the women were his students, except Marie-Belle, who was his babysitter), the women uniformly adore him as the unequivocal love of their lives. Which doesn’t mean that love is not mixed with enormous doses of vitriol, as evidenced by Evvie’s sentiment. “When I heard the news that he was dead, I said ‘Good!” she bitterly snorts, happily adding, “This is a funeral I plan to enjoy!” Evelyn is of essentially the same mindset, but Janice still romanticizes her life with him despite being dumped for Evvie (in her second round), while Marie-Belle’s relationship with him continues on (including some fairly loud lovemaking) despite his death.
In addition to Horovitz’ ability to write legitimately funny dialogue for the opposite sex, it is the performances of the four actresses that makes this play so enjoyable. Wise (playing far beyond her years) is a hoot as the embittered Evelyn, and Plum gives a three-dimensional performance as the woman who feels cheated at life, while also delivering some of the play’s funniest lines including, “When I die I don’t want a funeral (beat)…I just want a couple of friends to get together and bring me back to life.”
While Hickler essentially plays the straight role to the jabs of Evelyn and Evvie, she also provides the play’s longest sustained comic bit as she describes her horrible decision-making in her life in a tale involving the bizarre relationship between Janice, her therapist/husband and mother. And Obehi Janice brings an infectious energy to the role of Marie-Belle.
The final scene of leaves absolutely no doubt that the play was written by a man, and while “Babes” may not be of the caliber of last year’s brilliant “Man in Snow” (which won an IRNE Award for Best New Play) or even the previous year’s darkly comic “Gloucester Blue”, less-than-stellar Horovitz is still a good take, especially when watching such a talented quartet of actresses bring the laughs. For more info, go to: http://gloucesterstage.com/