- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

Playwright Richard Greenberg, author of “Take Me Out,” the multiple-award-winning play currently beguiling Broadway audiences, is known for the brainy zing of his dialogue, and “The Dazzle,” now at the Rep Stage, is no exception.

Mr. Greenberg’s reverie about the relationship between the legendary Collyer brothers (two aristocratic Manhattanites from the early 1900s who were found buried in their Harlem mansion under 136 tons of foraged junk) crackles with the kind of urbanely devastating wit and wordplay we usually associate with British playwrights such as Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter or Noel Coward.

Langley (Bruce Nelson) and Homer (Bill Largess) did exist. Indeed, they became such a part of New York folklore that the fire department terms a call to a debris- and junk-stuffed apartment a “collyer.” Yet Mr. Greenberg’s play is no documentary. He even flips the relationship — in reality, it was Langley who cared for the blind and ill Homer, not the other way around.

Mr. Greenberg is less interested in the facts than the inner dynamics of the Collyers’ strange bonds, why they chose to retreat from society while still in their 20s and why they found precious and fascinating all the things other people threw away.

The first act, set in the early 1900s in the opulent Victorian parlor of the brothers’ shared mansion, is bright and flippant. Langley, a concert pianist, is absurdly sensitive, hearing notes that no one else can and becoming engrossed by a lock of hair or the thread in an embroidered cloth. By the time he cries, “I wish I didn’t have so many senses,” you realize he is not merely a dotty, rich eccentric, but mentally ill.

An aesthete too delicate for the world, Langley is cosseted and indulged by Homer and also by Milly (Cheryl Resor), a silly heiress who wishes to scandalize her parents by marrying Langley.

The dialogue flies back and forth between Homer, who is rude in that dry, upper-crust sort of way, and Langley, who oscillates between hysteria and speaking like a moonstruck poet.

The element of nuttiness and fun dissipates in the second act, which finds Homer becoming “more and more less and less” every day. The already overstuffed parlor is crammed with still more objects, the lights are out, and passers-by throw rocks and junk through the broken window. Homer is blind and sits in his crummy chair famished for exotic tales.

Langley, on the other hand, has gone completely around the bend. He is infatuated with a lacrosse stick and spends days staring at a leaf or the colors in a glass vase. When Homer trips over the junk and howls, “Look at this place,” Langley sighs rapturously, “That’s all I ever do.” With his beloved bric-a-brac around, Langley is never lonely or bored. Homer, however, is mocked by the junk — every object holds a story he will never hear.

The success of “The Dazzle” depends on the actors, and Mr. Nelson and Mr. Largess are sublime. Together, they make the Collyer Brothers arty and weirdly fascinating — you can see why Milly wants to be in their company.

With a snarky little laugh that betrays just how uncomfortable Langley is around people other than his brother, Mr. Nelson paints an exquisite portrait of a deeply disturbed, deeply feeling man. If Mr. Nelson is all heat and nerves, Mr. Largess is cool and controlled as the “caretaker” Homer. He hides behind sarcasm and erudition, but Mr. Largess shows us how this armor is every bit as imprisoning as the trash his brother brings home.

Director Kasi Campbell’s touch is subtle, relying on the instincts and inventiveness of her actors. Unfortunately, agonizingly long scene changes tend to break the play’s spell.

When the lights are up, however, “The Dazzle” draws you into the creepy and contained world of two brothers who found beauty and worth in the stuff — and the souls — other people left behind.

***1/2

WHAT: “The Dazzle” by Richard Greenberg

WHERE: Rep Stage, Howard County Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 23.

TICKETS: $15 to $22

PHONE: 410/772-4900

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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