An acting pair light up the Theater Barn stage in 'The Decorator'

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NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — On the surface, Walter Page is a happy-go-lucky fellow who earns a living painting the interiors of houses and flats. But there is — especially as played by Mark "Monk" Schane-Lydon in the largely satisfying production of British playwright Donald Churchill's farce, "The Decorator," at The Theater Barn — a kind of Walter Mitty temperament at play within him. His life is just a bit empty. His wife simply walked out on him years earlier without explanation. Women, he says, do not find him attractive. He is a loner with few, if any, friends. He loves listening to classical music as he works. His real life's work, however, is being an actor. He is never more his real self, he says, than when he is someone else. He can quote lengthy passages from just about any Shakespeare play you can name. He acknowledges that his big break may never come. In the meanwhile, he says, he is joy-filled with the few truly bit parts that have come his way.

All that is about to change when he reports for work one morning at the flat of a woman named Marcia Hornbeam (an utterly sublime Kathleen Carey; a whole lot more about her in just a bit) to paint the study of her husband, Reggie, who is hours away from returning home from a business trip to Bahrain.

As Walter sets up for work, he can't help but overhear a heated conversation in the adjoining living room between Marcia and an aggrieved woman named Jane (Colleen Lovett), who has shown up unexpectedly at Marcia's flat and announced that not only has she found out that her husband and Marcia have been having an affair but that she intends to return later that evening to tell Marcia's husband.

That revelation would, of course, mean the end of everything for Marcia. So, Marcia proposes, with some gentle coaxing from Walter, to hire him to play her husband when Jane returns with an added bonus if Jane then leaves satisfied that she has gained her revenge by destroying Marcia's marriage.

For Walter, it's the role of a lifetime that will wind up providing a few added benefits to his sagging self-esteem in ways he can hardly anticipate.

There is very little that happens here that you can't see coming. But, under Phil Rice's clean, smooth, uncluttered direction, and expert performances by Schane-Lydon and especially Carey, who delivers a graceful, nuanced textbook, and then some, lesson in the art and craft of comedic acting, it all works.

Like the very best Olympic ice dancing couples, Schane-Lydon and Carey are a smooth, seamless pair. Their timing is flawless and they work off each other in so many richly rewarding ways. As a result, the first act, which is virtually all theirs, moves briskly, lightly; with consummate skill and artistry.

Schane-Lydon is masterly in a performance whose most impressive accomplishment is its ability to play excess without being excessive. Schane-Lydon's Walter blooms with unbridled possibilities as he and Marcia plot out the path of their deception, rehearse and then play it out. Especially in the second act, Schane-Lydon's Walter evokes the late Jackie Gleason's expansive mustachioed wealthy playboy, Reggie Van Gleason III, and the comic actor's more hapless and affecting sad sack, Poor Soul. The transformation from easygoing working class fellow to Marcia's husband, complete with false mustache and one of Reggie's Saville Row suits, which Walter clearly finds uncomfortable to wear, catches Marcia unaware and she fights to maintain self-control even as she bursts out in laughter at this incongruous image.

Carey, one of the region's more truly gifted actresses, is at the top of her form here; beyond. Vocally and physically (just watch her deal with an invasive nervous tension rash running wild over her body), Carey uses every tool in her toolbox with the cool, purposeful, unassuming skill of a master craftsperson/artist whose technique and strokes hide in plain sight. Carey doesn't miss a beat as her Marcia struggles to stay ahead of a situation of her own making that, at virtually every turn, threatens to come undone.

Carey's Marcia is absent through a big chunk of the second act, leaving Schane-Lydon's Walter alone with Lovett's Jane, who, satisfied that the Hornbeams' marriage has come crashing down on the rocks, decides to seize the opportunity to get just a bit more of her own back by seducing Walter. But Lovett's performance throughout is coated with more artifice than art; caricature than character. As a result, so much of the driving momentum of the first act and opening portions of the second act, dissipate. Until Marcia's return near the play's shrewd, catty end, what has been so effortless through much of the evening becomes labored and forced.

The real bonus here is watching two expert actors, Carey and Schane-Lydon, transform essentially mediocre material into something considerably more. What a treat!

Jeffrey Borak can be reached at jborak@berkshireeagle.com


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