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Siblings Share Psychodramas Within a Psychodrama

Published: September 3, 2005

Childlike whimsy turns sour in "The Eisteddfod," Lally Katz's darkly self-indulgent, deeply muddled new play. It's about a pair of shut-in orphans of indeterminate age, Abalone (Luke Mullins) and Gerture (Jessamy Dyer), who kill time by role-playing the parts of their late mother and father, of a schoolteacher with an imaginary class and of a brutal, womanizing cad named Ian.

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Vivian Cooper Smith

Vivian Cooper Smith

Luke Mullins and Jessamy Dyer play dark games in Lally Katz's play.

Arts & Leisure (August 28, 2005)

Whether this brother and sister are literally incestuous or just prone to overimaginative psychodrama is never made clear. Equally unclear is the point of this 75-minute exercise, which is following its turn at the New York International Fringe Festival with a two-week run at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater.

Almost in passing, Abalone and Gerture also take on the roles of the lead couple in Shakespeare's "Macbeth," rehearsing for a performance at the local talent show, the eisteddfod of the title. A Welsh tradition, the eisteddfod (pronounced ee-STED-fud) has also become something of a rage in Australia, where the two actors and the director, Chris Kohn, come from and where Ms. Katz, a New Jersey native, resides.

Ms. Katz introduces herself, and even gives her e-mail address, in a recorded voice-over that self-reflexively opens the play. Then, as the actors boogie onto the stage to an upbeat tune, Ms. Katz's narration breezily sets up the story in broad fairy-tale terms.

But what follows is more grim than Grimm. Abalone, jealous of the self-contained school-teaching fantasy into which his sister perennially retreats, lures her back into his thrall, ostensibly to work on "Macbeth" but more important, it seems, to dominate and denigrate her.

The lanky, mop-topped Mr. Mullins has some fine moments as this peremptory drama queen, though his character is far more needling and disturbing than funny. Ms. Dyer, whose reddish curls and needy smile evoke Judy Garland, locates authentic emotions amid the play's ever-shifting rules of engagement. It can't be easy to alternate arbitrary quirkiness with mopey introspection, but both actors throw themselves at their roles, if not quite into them, with heroic fervor.

The director, Mr. Kohn, marshals impressive design elements: Adam Gardnir's confining platform set, over which hovers a halo of feathers; Richard Vabre's versatile lighting; and Jethro Woodward's often imposing sound design. But Mr. Kohn's pacing is as willfully perverse as the play, which finally leaves an audience wondering: what kind of talent show would give these strange, self-conscious foundlings a blue ribbon?

"The Eisteddfod" runs through Sept. 10 at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, St. Mark's Church, 131 East 10th Street, East Village; (212) 533-4650.

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Photo: Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy in A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947
Photo: Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy in A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947