Six actors in ‘Book of Matthew’ dwarf previous Spreckels’ shows
Theater Review
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By Jud Snyder  March 28, 2014 12:00 am

Oh yes, they do, lots of families, barely perched on Manhattan’s upper west side, work and live in fourth or fifth floor walkup apartments.

Hey! It’s the big city where big-time publishers pay a few struggling writers large checks, while the 99 percent of other scribblers bleed words on their laptop keyboards and cheerlessly collect rejection slips along with returned boxes of their manuscripts. Struggling writers wallow in this sort of lifestyle while paying the rent with part-time jobs as waiters or pizza delivery drivers.

The scribbler may even have a wife, a struggling actress, talking divorce and ready to leave with packed bags; or a brother who pounds his chest and exclaims, “I’m a CPA!;” and a sister-in-law whose favorite description of you is “You’re a schmuck!” 

What the heck, add in our hero’s father who’s nearly speechless due to psychotic reasons, but discovers his voice when a gay neighbor chats him up with a monologue that neatly penetrates the old man’s nearly silent dilemma. 

Playwright Gene Abravaya takes these six characters, bits and pieces gleaned from his own career, (started writing it back in 2008), and turned it into “The Book of Matthew,” now on stage in the cozy Condiotti Theater inside Spreckels. Unquestionably, it’s the best and most professional two and one-half hours  I’ve seen on a Spreckels stage since, well, since “The Caretaker” years ago, when Michael Grice was managing Spreckels. That was decades ago.

Impeccable casting and Abravaya’s authorship and directing both deserve the standing ovation they received opening night.

Jeff Cote as Matthew Leibowitz, the struggling writer, Jeffrey Weissman as his brother Robert, the CPA, Madeline Ashe as Karen Leibowitz, poised on the edge of divorce, L.C Arisman as Matthew’s sister-in-law, Tim Setzer as Vincent, the gay, voluble neighbor and Norman A. Hall as Howard Leibowitz, father of the brothers, are so in tune with Abravaya’s script, it’s impossible for the audience to tear itself away and relax their grips on seat arms or nearby rails. 

Naturally, Abravaya has complete control of his play. No other family drama banality interferes, although you may get a vague whisper of Willy Loman’s confessions in “Death of a Salesman” from the father’s conversation. When a playwright spends six years to create a play like this, well, you know damn well you’re getting a pure platinum bar of professional stagecraft. 

Spreckels’ expert staffers like Eddy Hansen, Liz Bazzano and Pamela Enz blended the vital set design and  lighting with Dan Mitchell balancing the sound.

“The Book of Matthew” plays weekends through the Sunday matinee April 13 at 2 p.m. Evening curtains’ are 8 p.m., and the box office is open Tuesday through Saturday afternoons or one hour before curtain times. 

Call 588-3400 for reservations.

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