Performed by Charles Nelson Reilly
Written by Mr. Reilly and Paul Linke
Directed by Mr. Linke
Irish Repertory Theatre / 132 West 22nd Street / (212) 727-2737

Reviewed by David Spencer

I want to write pages and pages of encomiums about Charles Nelson Reilly’s autobiographical reminiscence of his life and career, "Save it for the Stage"–but I wonder if it’s not best just to tell you it ranks up there with the all-time great one-performer evenings and leave it to you to discover just how spectacular it is.

I suppose what I can do, by way of splitting the difference, is tell you a few of the reasons–perhaps the key reasons–why spectacular is not too hyperbolic a word.

1. Though it certainly takes ego to do an evening like this, Mr. Reilly has his in check–and he’s earned the privilege, after nearly a half-century as an actor and director prominently visible on stage and scree.

2. It is much of the time hard-guffaw funny. The anecdotes, both about his history offstage, and his interactions with show business icons, are richly worthwhile.

3. It is much of the time tear-to-the-eye sad; Reilly grew up in and among a soul-freezingly dysfunctional family, there was no hiding the mannerisms and persona that marked him unmistakably as homosexual (in an era when such was remarkable and could have tragic consequences–more routinely anyway), and he negotiated his fair share of pain and hardship.

But perhaps most importantly–

4. It is much of the time funny and sad at the same time!

The absolutely brilliant (and no, that is not a word used lightly) humanist insight that has gone into the conception of this piece is its knowing combination of humor and pathos. Reilly can break your heart and then make you laugh with an ironic remark that shows the absurdity amid the sadness. One refrain that continually surprises, amuses, touches and pointedly provdes both image and editorial content with no need for explanation is his penchant for casting the roles of the people in his life. For example, he describes two hurtfully gossipy neighborhood ladies–adding: "…who will be played by Olympia Dukakis and Gina Lolabrigita."

Further features that can be enthusiastically listed include Mr. Reilly’s to-be-treasured wisdom as an old, ultra-seasoned pro (he jokes about the days when "How do you get on television?" fueled the quest, and how now he sometimes finds himself asking, "Who do you have to fuck to get off?"), and what he brings to the table as a kind and caring teacher–for he is that as well; not only in his acting classes, but there on the stage of the Irish Repertory Company–for "Save It for the Stage" is, as much as anything can be, a real object lesson in theatre savvy and craft.

Each given theatre season will have its short list of "events"–the real don’t-miss deals that require your presence for various individual and collective reasons…but a short list it is, because in the end, what makes an event truly worthy of the designation is its ability to sear itself into your life, your everlasting consciousness and the way you think about theatre and art.

"Save it for the Stage: The Life of Reilly" is, to borrow one of its hero’s refrains, that sort of play…

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