Playwright: Mark Saltzman. At: MadKap Productions at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Phone: 773-404-7336 or www.greenhousetheater.org; $40. Runs through: March 11
Don't be fooled by the title: It's true that there were, in the early years of the 20th century, two brothers named Langley and Homer Collyer, blue-blooded heirs to a vast fortune. It's also true that they were known for their reclusive lifestyle and eccentric behavior: Langley fancied himself a concert pianist, while Homer devoted himself to reading and caring for his mercurial sibling. Both were obsessive savers and collectorsLangley out of sentiment, Homer out of thriftand both, in 1947, were found dead in their home, buried amid the accumulated detritus of nearly five decades.
That's not what this play is about, however. It's about the relationship between officers Reilly and Kevin Dolan, the two policemen who lead the investigation into the final days of the Fifth Avenue oddballs. We know this because the Dolan brothers are portrayed as sympathetic human beings suffering commonplace problems (Kevin being a shell-shocked war veteran), while the Collyers are constructed as vaudeville clowns, swapping repartee and slapstick in affected English accentspresumably also scavenged from some dustbinwith only one unabashedly sentimental moment of redemption before they become as one with their possessions.
Did author Mark Saltzman relapse into habits acquired during his days of writing for Jim Henson's enterprises, or did director Wayne Mell mistrust his audiences' ability to refrain from giggling when confronted with too much pathos? Whatever the answer, the results are a hodgepodge not unlike that onstage: Saltzman claims to have found hints of a "film noir detective story" in the Collyer legendlisten closely and you'll hear them. The now-threadbare gimmick of having all auxiliary personnel played by only two actors drew opening-night laughter and applause at the end of their every appearance. A running score of incidental piano music is probably meant to invoke Langley's obsessive hobby, but emerges more reminiscent of silent-movie comedy.
The actors soldier on through the contradictions of their characters with nimble alacrity (Joe Mack and Michael J. Bullaro providing welcome sanity as the bewildered flatfeet), while Bill Morey's quick-change costumes, Andrei Onegin's scrim-based scenic design and Mary O'Dowd's museum-grade set dressing supply an abundance of visual interest. So who is responsible for turning this fundamentally tragic tale into a camp-cartoon spoof of a Victorian penny dreadful? Now there's a mystery worth pursuing!