The opening of Neal Bell's "Two Small Bodies" at
the Matrix Tuesday is yet another example of how far the theater's
management will go to do right by a play. Producer Joe Stern first got
wind of it at the O'Neill Playwrights Conference in 1977, then heard
of a subsequent production at Playwrights Horizon, "and finally got to
see it on its feet at an outfit called the Production Company in New
"Its something I've wanted to do for a long time,
and even turned down a couple of two-character plays, such as These
Men,' in order to do it," said Stern. "I had Michael McGuire in mind
for the male role, but it wasn't until I saw Judith Ivey in the New
York production that I knew we (meaning Actors for Themselves) had the
right actress. Before that, I held onto the play for 16 months. That's
how much I think of McGuire."
The upshot of it is that both Ivey and director
Norman Rene, who runs the Production Company, are coming out to do it
again. That may not be news on the commercial circuit, but it is a
tribute to the drawing power of Equity Waiver for artists.
"I really only came out to do this play," said
Rene, "not to put out feelers into television and the movies. New York
is slow this time of year, and I wanted to stick with a play I think
is unique in its insights and emotional impact.
"The play is loosely based on the Alice Crimmins
murder case, in which a cocktail hostess murdered her two children.
Ivey plays the hostess and McGuire plays a detective who's
investigating the case and strikes up a personal relationship with
her. To me, the play says an awful lot about the prejudices between
sexes and classes, the old baggage one brings into new relationships,
and the lure between a mother-hooker figure and a policeman who's
reconceived in her mind as a father figure. I think in terms of
language and texture, and in the way it deals with the complications
between men and women, that it's a fascinating work."
Rene is also the person who conceived and directed
"Marry Me a Little," which brought to light songs that were dropped
for one reason or another from Stephen Sondheim musicals. A production
is still running in London (it played last year in New York). Maybe
Stern could coax Rene into doing it here.
REVIEW: VARIETY, Thurs, Sept. 16, 1982
Actors for Themselves' second entry into its
current two-play repertory, "Two Small Bodies," by Neal Bell, is yet
another version of an actual case in which a promiscuous mother is
accused of murdering her two children and her seeming in-sensitivity
to the matter complicated the investigation.
Bell's rendering of the tale is chilling in itself
and director Norman Rene mounts it on a cold, representational set
that emphasizes the personal tragedy. Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral
have seen to the set design and made it particularly stark.
Judith Ivey, who originated the role of the mother
when show preemed at Playwright Horizons in New York, is repeating in
her role and Michael McGuire is playing the policeman who is
alternately disgusted and fascinated with this unemotional woman.
In a series of short scenes (almost cinematic in
nature, but not as effective), story unfolds that, although she didn't
kill the children, she is guilty of sometimes wishing them dead, as
they got in the way of her hedonistic activity.
Ivey plays the role of the unsympathetic sybarite
with an absolute remoteness and verisimilitude. With a stoic attitude
toward the detective, the slightest deviation reveals the pain she is
actually suffering at the somewhat sadistic handling of the
interrogation by McGuire.
Latter plays the detective straightforward, and his
unswerving approach to the probe heightens the torture the girl
endures. The lust he begins to feel for her reduces them both to the
animal level. But it also reduces the show to a plane of cold, hard
fact which is more difficult to digest than fiction.
The work being done is a masterful production, but
the audience has to work to become involved. There's an undercurrent
running through the play that makes the viewer feel that he wants to
sympathize with someone. But when that feeling starts, he is made to
feel unwelcome. A strange and intriguing type of play that never gives
itself to the audience.
There's an invisible wall between the characters
that extends beyond the proscenium and keeps the audience at a
distance. It's as if there's a sign warning: "Look, but don't touch —
or be touched."
Mary I. Gleason's costumes are quite good as are
Hariton and Baral's sets and lighting.
REVIEW: L.A. WEEKLY, September 3-9, 1982
by Joie Davidow
A few years ago, New Yorkers were intrigued by the
sensational details of the Alice Crimmins case, which ran in the daily
papers for months. Playwright Neal Bell exploits the same macabre side
of human nature that makes crime headlines sell newspapers in this
two-character play, based on the Crimmins case. Alice Crimmins was a
cocktail waitress, accused of murdering her two children. Bell sets
aside the nasty issue of what kind of a rotten lady kills her
own kids — actually, he seems to suggest that anybody could do it if
they got mad enough. Instead, he fantasizes on the relationship
between Crimmins and the investigating detective, concerning himself
with the tension between man and woman — the power trips, the
obsession, the tentative attempts at communication, the hasty retreats
back to game-playing. He does it through a series of blackouts, at
first very short scenes, then longer ones, and he uses every easy
trick: she takes off her clothes, he takes off his clothes, dirty
talk, violent talk. At one point, she asks him, "What are you gonna
have to do to make me react?" It's the same approach Bell seems to be
taking with his audience.
But what makes the evening interesting — very
interesting — is the work of actors Judith Ivey and Michael McGuire,
directed by Norman Rene. Perhaps the best thing that can be said for
Bell's work is that it challenges the actors and gives them a chance
to show off. These two are more than up to it — creating real
characters, taking them through a range of emotions. It's a
fascinating display of acting skill, which is nearly enough to sustain
one through the relentless pessimism of the play.
REVIEW: DRAMA-LOGUE, September 2-8, 1982
Reviewed by Lee Melville
First of all, one has to accept that Neal Bell's
Two Small Bodies is not logical; otherwise, you come away from a
performance with too many questions for which no answer is provided or
can be concluded. Two Small Bodies is an abstract jigsaw puzzle
where the pieces do not fit. It makes an interesting companion piece
for Harold Pinter's Betrayal with which it splits the week in
performances at the Matrix Theatre where both are being presented
under Joseph Stern's Actors For Themselves banner. Whereas Betrayal
is perhaps Pinter's most logical play —finely crafted with every
line filled with meaning — Bell's play is loosely structured with its
dialogue taking on dark, ominous meaning — or is it all a fantasy?
Eileen Maloney's two small children are missing.
Kidnapped? Murdered? By whom? Perhaps by her husband. Perhaps by her.
Lt. Brann seems to believe she did it and in a series of
interrogations tries to break her down to a confession. If it is based
on the well-known Crimmons case (in New York), it never fully commits
to a resolution. Obviously, that is Bell's intent. Lt. Brann, father
of two boys, is a straight arrow police officer who gets "wrought up"
by missing child cases. Eileen is a cocktail waitress who feels "being
a mother can be a rather tiring thing;" her children crowd her. Do
these different attitudes cause the negative attraction toward each
other as they engage in a sexual tug-of-war? Could be. Or does each
represent a fantasy to the other? Very likely.
You're not apt to find cleaner, more solid acting
anywhere than in the performances of Judith Ivey and Michael McGuire
as they turn these rather ill-defined characters into real people.
Through Eileen's hard, brittle exterior Ivey illuminates the
vulnerability inside; if, at times, she seems too forced, it is
exactly what Maloney would do. McGuire gives a simple lesson in
responding to another person; he receives what Ivey emits with
understated honesty. There is not one false moment in his precise
portrayal of a man grasping and, at the same time, losing his grip on
reality. One is not sure what the term "actor's actor" means anymore
but if it is someone other actors can appreciate, study and gain from,
then McGuire is the epitome of that.
There is a third character in Two Small Bodies
— the lighting design of Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral. Nothing
more is needed onstage to convey time, mood and place. If lighting was
always this exciting it would not so often be the overlooked child in
the design family...
One can disregard the flaws because they are minor
in view of the major breakthroughs Two Small Bodies achieves.
This production should be seen primarily for the acting which Stern's
company again attests to how exciting good theatre can be.
REVIEW: EVENING OUTLOOK, August 27, 1982
Two misfits who meet
by Ed Kaufman
first, "Two Small Bodies," currently in its West Coast premiere at the
Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood, seems conventional enough. A routine
investigation of a couple of missing children. Asking all the
questions is a tough, no-nonsense New York cop, and answering the
questions is the equally tough mother of the two children.
So far it looks and sounds like TV fare: the
exhausted cop and the flippant mother. Only it's not. Author Neal Bell
has used the conventional format of the "investigation" to go beneath
the obvious and the routine. As a result, "Two Small Bodies" becomes a
psychological whodunit and a study of attitudes and relationships.
Author Bell has managed to capture a mixed-up world
with a sort of street poetry that often soars. Certainly it sears, as
the two characters try to get their emotional bearings in a sea of
change and uncertainty. And it's no longer a question of increasing
violence. Every generation has had violence. It's a matter of how we
react to it, and the value system that gives life meaning to offset
all the craziness.
What makes "Two Small Bodies" so strong is its
attempt to find a sense of shape in the world. Shakespeare might have
looked for a system in the heavens. Author Bell never looks up from
around the apartment of Eileen Maloney. If there's an answer, it's
tentative and, perhaps, written in the wind.
Eileen and Lt. Brann are a couple of misfits. She's
a cocktail waitress, a high-priced hooker, a woman who's a mother and
who feels "crowded." And she's also full of confusion and guilt.
Brann's a New York cop, a realist, at times abrasive, a relentless
pursuer of facts. He's also vulnerable and a pretty decent family man
trying to cope in a world of sham.
The two meet ("collide" would be a better word) on
the white, austere set of Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral, who also
designed the effective lighting to silhouette a couple of characters
struggling with the "truth": the facts of the case and the emotions
within each of them.
Judith Ivey and Michael McGuire are absolutely
stunning as Eileen and Brann, whose star-crossed world brings them
together. Both are allowed the actor's right to touch all the
emotional bases. Ultimately there's a sort of understanding that comes
from emotional exorcism.
REVIEW: DAILY NEWS, September 27, 1982
'Bodies': a Mystery of the Mind
by Rick Talcove
In Neal Bell's stark drama, "Two Small Bodies," a
detective and a would-be murder suspect go "one on one" in a series of
interrogations that often make you to wonder who is captive and who is
captor. By employing a technique that boldly eliminates all theatrical
waste, this latest production by Actors for Themselves at the Matrix
Theater in Hollywood achieves a formidable success.
Theatergoers may notice a distinct similarity
between the character of Eileen Maloney in "Two Small , Bodies"'and
Claudia Draper, the heroine of "Nuts." Both women are hard-living,
hard-driving examples of soiled femininity, with constant chips on
But where "Nuts" concentrates on whether Claudia is
sane enough to stand trial for a crime she obviously committed, "Two
Small Bodies" (suggested by a true incident) presents the mystery of
whether Eileen Maloney actually killed her two small children,
sleeping in an adjoining bedroom.
Lt. Brann, the investigating officer assigned to
interrogate Eileen, has his reasons for being alternately repelled and
fascinated by this woman. She represents a heartless, selfish,
sarcastic female who nevertheless brings out a long submerged passion
in him. Like Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist in "Equus," Brann is
drawn to this woman sexually for the very things that disgust him
Ultimately, through the clever game-playing
each character employs upon the other, the solution to the mystery of
"Two Small Bodies" is adroitly solved. This is not an Agatha Christie
tale of false moves and unmasked motivations; rather, it is a tightly
coiled mystery of the mind and how human beings can be dedicated to
their own self-destruction.
But, above all. "Two Small Bodies" is a fascinating
piece of theater.