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Play’s Ingredients Are Six Bartenders

March 22, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ ″Crossing the Bar,″ which opened Thursday night at Playhouse 91 off- Broadway, carries more weight in the title than in the light and humorous play.

Tennyson’s poem was about dying. In playwright Michael Zettler’s version, a bartender has died. But the six fellow Bucks County, Pa., bartenders who accompany Howard’s coffin north to a cemetery - and stop in a bar on the way - thought Howard was horrible. They don’t say much about him and reflect little on dying.

Rudi’s preoccupation is with who bought Howard’s bar, near his.

″Crossing the Bar″ is something of a male version of ″The Octette Bridge Club″ on Broadway in which eight women meet for more talk than bridge. Various problems are touched on, but only one is explored even superficially. Both plays are more entertainment for witty things said than analysis.

In ″Crossing the Bar,″ Augie (Ed Setrakian) is a major focus. He’s so uncomfortable it’s easy to guess that he bought the bar. He’s in conflict about competing with Rudi (Dick Latessa) who helped him start his pizza parlor and has long been big brotherly. But Augie needed to step up, do something without Rudi’s help.

Undertaker Fitz (Don Perkins) drinks too much and passes out, stranding the bartenders in Jim’s bar, which is festooned with antlers and deer heads. Jim, played by Jay Devlin like a rustic, older Tom Poston, is adding a room. Rudi gets the idea of planting Howard under its soon-to-be-poured floor, saving the rest of the trip north.

Ethnic changes are rung, too. Kelly (Frank Hamilton) is, of course, Irish. Tony (Stan Lachow), the Italian, entices the resident barkeep’s daughter (Betsy Aidem) into the hearse. John (George Guidall), tall, wise, elder statesman, is Spanish, best breaking a stereotype.

Freddie (Brian Hartigan) is homosexual, affects a monocle and phony German accent. He says that Tony’s Italian accent is phony, too, starting one of several arguments.

The playwright knows how to end a scene with a nice pow or ping. All the acting is good. Director Jerry Zaks doesn’t let his bartenders get static in somebody else’s bar. Loren Sherman’s scenery is antler-packed. Costumer Sally Lesser has mourners in black suits, Jim and daughter in plaid cotton-flannel shirts and jeans.

Jessica Levy produced.

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