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‘Coward’ Revels in Cheerful Gore; Addams Grandma Whines: Review

Jeremy Strong and Kristan Schaal in
Jeremy Strong and Kristan Schaal in "The Coward." Photographer: Erin Baiano/Philip Rinaldi Publicity via Bloomberg

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Quentin Tarantino meets Marivaux in “The Coward,” a comedy of manners with a major dollop of gore that’s not for the squeamish.

This Nick Jones comedy is given a high-stylish, febrile production by flavor-of-the-moment director Sam Gold for Lincoln Center Theater’s development arm, LCT3.

It’s set in the late 18th century, mostly on the estate of Nathaniel Culling (Richard Poe), a bombastic blueblood who’s already lost two sons to the foolish art of the duel and now urges his third, the exceedingly effeminate Lucidus (Jeremy Strong), to follow suit.

Poor Lucidus would rather be tasting pies in the park with his foppy friends Gavin (Stephen Ellis) and Finn (John Patrick Doherty). Eager to please Father, however, he sets in motion a series of events leading to showdowns in which he is replaced by a sharp-shooting double (Christopher Evan Welch). Lucidus’s “success” brings him unwanted fame and the dubious attentions of the vapid Isabelle Dupree (Kristen Schaal), a purse-lipped debutante for whom flouncing is a high-art form.

There’s a wicked satire lurking just below the surface (think of Shakespeare’s Falstaff riffing on the theme of honor and you’ll have some idea of what Jones has in mind).

Over-the-Top

Gold has all the actors play over-the-top, none more so than Strong, whose vocal register is somewhere in the ether and who, with his fluttery fingers and bouncy steps, epitomizes the phrase “light-in-the-loafers.” He’s easily matched by Schaal, a peerless bubblehead.

As the violence escalates, the visuals grows more and more crimson in a production given serious polish by set designer David Zinn, lighting master Ben Stanton and costumer Gabriel Berry.

“The Coward” is a perfect complement to Lincoln Center Theater’s luscious production of “A Free Man of Color” at the Beaumont, the former a new voice worth hearing, the latter a practiced one always worthy of attention.

Through Dec. 4 at the Duke on 42nd, 229 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-646-223-3010; http://www.dukeon42.org Rating: **

‘Jackie Five-Oh!’

On Broadway, Jackie Hoffman plays screechy, cranky Grandma in “The Addams Family.” At Joe’s Pub, where she’s celebrating her “first” 50th birthday, she’s playing screechy, cranky Jackie Hoffman in her latest taste-challenged, brutally funny stand-up performance.

Chief among her targets is her own show. “When the critics ran out of hatred room in the reviews for our show,” she says, “they started to hate us in reviews they wrote for other shows.”

Hoffman (who co-wrote the evening with Michael Schiralli and musical director Bobby Peaco) kvetches about being the only Broadway grandmother deprived of her own song, when even Lurch gets one (“He doesn’t even talk!”). Also about losing film roles to Queen Latifah (Hoffman is small, white and Jewish; Queen Latifah is, you know, not).

Mondays through Dec. 31 at 425 Lafayette St. Information: +1-212-967-7555; http://www.joespub.com Rating: **


What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Very Good
*           Good
(No stars)  Poor

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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