Otherwise Engaged | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Otherwise Engaged


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OTHERWISE ENGAGED, Scala/Colucci Productions, at the Folio Theatre. If you can't do a British accent, you can't do Simon Gray. Period. Unlike other British playwrights, whose language can be easily translated into other dialects and cultural settings, Gray's consummately British world of hyper-educated Oxford and Cambridge academics cannot be played by actors who sound as if they were educated in Carbondale.

In the opening moments of its production of Otherwise Engaged, Scala/Colucci gets everything right: the tastefully appointed living room, the delicate candelabras and sculptures, the fancy stereo system, the carefully chosen clothes with just the right air of casual elegance. Then Michael Colucci as Simon, a distantly superior figure who channels his frustration with an empty marriage into frivolous affairs, opens his mouth and ruins everything.

Colucci looks convincing enough. He has obviously studied the simmering nuances of Gray's understated language, adopted the tone of Alan Bates, and integrated the mannerisms of Jeremy Irons, but since he lapses in and out (mostly out) of his accent, he is simply not credible. You couldn't accept Al Pacino teaching Eliza Doolittle the rhythms of standard English, and you can't buy Colucci as Simon. With the exception of the ferociously engaging Marshall Bean, playing a man who has been cuckolded by Simon and comes to seek revenge, you can't buy many of the other actors either, especially when they discuss publishing scholarly criticism, applying for headmasterships, and the like. One character insists, "You want to know something about me? I'm English. English to my marrow's marrow." Despite the actor's endearing performance, you feel like saying, "No, you're not." Like a great foreign film with poorly dubbed dialogue, this is a production that looks all right but sounds all wrong.

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