Theater

Cohn (Bob Dishy) tries to understand how and why Joan of Arc (Halley Feiffer) has entered his reclusive life. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Cohn (Bob Dishy) tries to understand how and why Joan of Arc (Halley Feiffer) has entered his reclusive life. Photos by Ralph Stewart

Who's there?

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - August 3, 2006

For the third play of their 25th anniversary season, the Vineyard Playhouse brings back a show from their first season, Jules Feiffer's "Knock Knock." The absurdist comedy was written in 1976 and nominated for a Tony Award. The play is a philosophical treat where reality crashed head-on into illusion, taking the audience on a wild ride.

Two grumpy old men, Abe and Cohn, share a dingy cabin and never go outside. Visitors to this limbo-in-the-woods are few, so the two men have only each other for company. Verbal dueling takes the form of aggravated needling. No witty repartee here. Just when the audience is trying to navigate the philosophical waters of the dialogue - Poof! - a genie appears.

Housemates Abe (Richard Libertini, standing) and Cohn (Bob Dishy) lock horns in "Knock Knock" at the Vineyard Playhouse. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Housemates Abe (Richard Libertini, standing) and Cohn (Bob Dishy) lock horns in "Knock Knock" at the Vineyard Playhouse.

A Groucho Marx-style Mephisto, the genie tumbles in and out of the cabin, causing mischief, raising the nonsense level, and further confusing the already befuddled Cohn.

There is a knock on the door. In a puff of smoke, accompanied by a loud fanfare, and backlit for maximum effect, Joan of Arc steps through the door. Ta da! At this point the audience is no longer questioning such fantastic events. The single-minded maid has a mission and Cohn is to come with her. Wide-eyed, Cohn tries to understand what's going on as his reality shifts like tectonic plates.

The show moves swiftly along, the dialogue jostling the characters. Playwright Feiffer uses his characters like bumper cars to deliver his message.

The production is first-rate fun. Cohn is played to perfection by Bob Dishy. Crafting Cohn like a fine piece of sculpture, he maintains a confused and energetic character throughout the three acts.

Robert Libertini as Abe also delivers a very fine performance. He and Mr. Dishy work well together. Mr. Libertini makes Abe's shifts from the real to the fantastic seem easy. A lot of hard work went into Abe's character, and the audience loves it.

Wiseman, the genie, is played in a broad comic style by Khris Lewin. If is fun to see his work and try to guess just what he will do next. Mr. Feiffer has written a gem of a character. Mr. Lewin polishes that gem to sparkling brilliance.

After such a grand entrance, you might think Joan of Arc has nowhere left to go. Wrong! A soft-spoken Halley Feiffer, daughter of Jules Feiffer, portrays Joan with an almost maddening quietness. Her smile is bewitching and so is her performance. Ms. Feiffer delivers a show-stopping monologue that brings the play around full circle.

Director Richard Caliban keeps the zaniness from getting out of control. He doesn't move his actors for the sake of moving them. He allows them to remain in one place while their lines swirl around. The lighting design by John R. Malinowski enhanced the show as did the busy, functional set by Stephen Zablotny. The set was a touchstone to reality. The costumes were designed by Kerry Binder.

The play is fun. Philosophical banter zooms by almost too quickly to grasp. The production is an abstract painting, where colors and forms come together, and the audience finds a variety of meanings in all the mad fun.

"Knock Knock," Tuesday through Saturday, Vineyard Playhouse, 24 Church Street, Vineyard Haven, through August 12. Curtain times vary. Ticket prices range from $20 to $35. For reservations or information, call 508-696-6300. Visit www.vineyardplayhouse.org.