Thank goodness Dan Lauria was in this play. The simple and underwhelming storyline by award-winning playwright Shem Bitterman found only a scattering of amusing moments with some clever quips scattered here and there. The Stone Witch, now playing at Westside Theatre, is a story about an aging famous and eccentric author, Simon Grindberg (Dan Lauria), whose last great book was published 12 years ago. His publisher, Clair Forlorni (Carolyn McCormick), is eagerly awaiting his next finished work and sends in a young newcomer author, Peter Chandler (Rupak Ginn), to attempt to assist and motivate Grindberg to finish his book.
It was a thrill to see Lauria completely embody a character that, although unoriginal, was delivered with great finesse and commitment to characterization. Lauria’s talents seemed to have been stretched to their limits by being forced to remain in character and continue his spot-on delivery despite performing opposite Ginn and McCormick who did nothing to prove their impressive credits and failed to react with any kind of sensibility against Lauria’s credible impassioned moments. Direction by Steve Zuckerman was stiff, particularly during the set up scene taking place in the publisher’s office, where McCormick rushed and mumbled through her lines.
Bitterman presents the idea that Grindberg is affected directly and personally by the events of World War II, of which he is obviously too young to have been present for, and yet no clear explanation is given as to why he should, in his moments of mental digression, wander off in a mental haze about it. Towards the end of the play we are told that Grindberg and Chandler are both authors and illustrators – a fact that was never set up in the beginning and was simply thrown in our lap somewhat unceremoniously even though it made very little difference to the scenario, and its only value-add was to compliment the magnificent scenery backdrop of the walls of Grindberg’s hide-away cabin and lighting effects by talented designer Yael Pardess which were truly beautiful and glorious.
All in all, a fairly ordinary play, but magnificent set design and a lovely performance by Dan Lauria.