As the audience drifted in and patrons chatted quietly, the strains of the overture to the 1939 film Gone With the Wind and the theme from the Godfather series of films wafted through the intimate, black box theater space. These musical reminders project complex emotional and dark pathos and do not feature happy endings. I recall Rhett Butler’s last words “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn” to the coquettish and now tearful Scarlett O’Hara in response to her asking him “Where shall I go? What shall I do?” I wondered what portentous clues lie in these sound bytes. As the lights dimmed a bit, the theme from the mystery comedy and frequently absurd film franchise The Pink Panther softened the musical clues of the preceding works.
This is Ugo’s (Rohan Lilien) story. He appears as the narrator and explains that he has discovered an uncomfortable truth. He’s the intuitive, sensitive teenage son of Allison Kleen (Katharine McLeod) and Valter Kleen (Frank Hanky). Ugo loves movies and can dispatch film trivia at will.
We hear a couple engaged in what appears to be a midday tryst. As the pair is revealed we find Manhattan real estate broker John (Eric Percival) with Allison who responds ecstatically to John’s passionate sweet-nothings about the perfect New York apartment. He whispers about an apartment with two baths, two bedrooms, a dining room with crown moulding, an upscale kitchen, and garden. Before parting they discuss John’s desire for the future divorce of Allison with her husband Valter and their next rendezvous on Thursday.
John works for property owner Sol Gurkowitz (Roger Hendricks Simon), a crusty elderly curmudgeon who is concerned about the type of people to rent the two-floor apartment in the building he owns and in which he lives. He wants quiet, respectful adults, no children, smoking, or pets. Despite Sol’s concerns, John convinces him to meet Allison, Ugo and Valter to determine if they can rent the apartment. In the interview sequence, we better see the diverse personalities of this family trio, from the temperamental artist German-born Valter, the ambitious Allison who loves her son dearly, and Ugo with his slightly rebellious, sometimes sarcastic persona.
We have a potpourri of deceit, lies, an adulterous affair, a teenaged son who overhears his mother and lover making their sordid plans, and a delightfully pompous but lovable artist husband who designs art to be despised. We also have the immature broker John who continually pressures Allison to tell Valter of their love, and Sol, who, while desiring peace and quiet, ends up in the middle of the entire matter. This could trudge on ad infinitum, end in tragedy, reconciliation, or a complex inevitable conclusion.
Sol emerges as the hero and stalwart of common sense. His moments with Ugo, whose world is spinning out of control, are among the most tender, vital, and satisfying. Particular acclaim is noted for Roger Hendricks Simon for his powerful, empathetic role as Sol.
The play is two hours without intermission and captures the imagination throughout within its rich context of possibilities exuding from human frailty, the complexity of relationships, and the dangers associated with love triangles. While some may find betrayal disturbing, Tempus fugit as the cast, with superb timing, marvelously developed characters and chemistry, clever bantering and witticisms, moves inexorably toward a viable surprise conclusion.
Ugo appears for the denouement and completes the story. You’ll need to see this yourself to discover how if at all, it resolves.
Love, Sex & Real Estate
By Bill Cosgriff
Directed by John D. McNally
Rohan Lilen as Ugo
Eric Percival as John
Katharine McLeod as Allison
Roger Hendricks Simon as Sol
Frank Hanky as Valter
Chain Theatre Mainstage
312 W. 36 St. New York