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(photo credit: AP)
Job. Wife. Religion. The title character in Howard Katz has lost them all in Patrick Marber's vivid character study of an angry man unmoored.
It's a mid-life crisis super-sized - a 90-minute meltdown ignited by some highly theatrical invective, most of it delivered by Alfred Molina as Katz, a high-powered, British show-biz agent. Molina is one of those compelling actors who can bluster effectively and still earn our sympathy. And rail he does in this busy Roundabout Theatre Company production that opened Thursday at off-Broadway's Laura Pels Theatre.
Director Doug Hughes pushes the evening at a furious pace, as we watch Katz's decline from the minute the play, rewritten quite a bit since its London premiere in 2001, begins. He sits forlornly on a park bench, reliving his humiliations and thinking about ending it all.
Katz's career is in tatters. He is the kind of guy who cozies up to his clients until they decide to drop him. Then he viciously turns on them. And Marber certainly knows how to write a profane screed - with Katz turning his considerable bile on all the second-tier celebrities he has represented over the years.
The domestic front isn't any cheerier. When his wife asks him if he could be any animal, what would he be, Katz responds "badger." An apt creature for this pugnacious man who reacts first and then reconsiders to just about every situation. His marriage, too, has collapsed and his wife has found solace with another man. Even sex with a prostitute doesn't work out.
Katz also spars with his father and brother, not to mention arguing a bit with God about his Jewish roots. It's a one-sided conversation that makes Molina sound a bit like a terrible-tempered Tevye, a role he played coincidentally in the 2004 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. The only person to whom Katz really connects is his young son.
The supporting cast, for the most part playing multiple roles, is an indistinguishable blur, which says something, considering the performers include such esteemed actors as Alvin Epstein and Elizabeth Franz.
If Howard Katz seems more like a portrait than a full-fledged play, it's because the man's diatribes pretty much take over at the expense of plot. In Katz's bleak, dead-end world, argument is all.