'Year of the Duck,' A New Play by Israel Horovitz, Opens Off- Broadway
Oct. 21, 1987
NEW YORK (AP) _ The truth hurts, but whether it leads to tragedy or comedy is the big question - and one of the themes examined by Israel Horovitz in his gentle, sly ''Year of the Duck.''
This well-crafted evening of theater, which arrived over the weekend at off-Broadway's Hudson Guild Theater, is sort of a play within a play, or rather one play commenting on and mirroring another. In this case, the second work is ''The Wild Duck,'' Ibsen's dank domestic drama in which the curtain falls on a youthful suicide.
Horovitz sets his story, not in Norway, but in Gloucester, Mass., where many of his other works, including ''North Shore Fish'' and ''Henry Lumper,'' take place. The fictional Wingaersheek Players, a local community group, is rehearsing a production of ''The Wild Duck,'' and life begins to imitate art.
In ''The Wild Duck,'' forthright revelations about the past unravel a family, and the consequences are disastrous. In ''Year of the Duck,'' the same forthrightness proves equally distressing.
The truthseeker in ''Year of the Duck'' is John, the pompous amateur theater director. He is a self-centered man determined not to fall victim to what he calls ''the saving lie.'' John encourages Harry, the play's leading man, to publicly admit his long-time affair with the play's leading lady.
Harry is astonished that his wife Margaret doesn't take the news very well. She, in turn, is having an affair with the director who is all for honesty as long as he doesn't have to provide it. Everyone tries to shield Sophie, Harry's daughter, from the truth. It's Sophie who plays the young girl in ''The Wild Duck,'' and her reaction to the multitude of affairs is similar to the torment felt by Ibsen's young heroine. Whether she will take the same way out gives the play a modicum of suspense.
Watching these domestic theatrics is Nathan, Harry's common-sense father. Nathan is the ultimate realist. He sees the truth and is willing to look the other way. He doesn't have much use for the amateur stage antics either.
''Plays are dangerous things,'' he warns. ''Nothing on the face of the earth is more dangerous than literature.''
It's the grandfather's practicality that finally prevails, shifting ''Year of the Duck'' from tragedy to comedy. Truth will only carry you so far, the playwright seems to be saying. Something else is needed for survival. Not exactly new sentiments but they are told in a fascinating way.
The acting is mixed, but the women fare better than the men, particularly Katherine Hiler as the uncertain daughter. Her poignancy is never cloying.
Director Geoffrey Sherman keeps the plot moving although the play shifts mechanically on the bifurcated set created by Paul Wonsek. Half of it takes place in a homey kitchen, the other half upstairs in a makeshift photography studio, similar to the studio in ''The Wild Duck.'' But ''Year of the Duck'' is very much its own play, using the Ibsen work to create a believable little world of its own.