Carpet Cleaning and Convalescence

THEATER: REVIEW

Mr. Gogol and Mr. Preen Comedy by Elaine May. Directed by Gregory Mosher. At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.

PERFORMER-writer-director Elaine May returns to the local stage for the first time in a number of seasons with a quirky, neighborly comedy about a vacuum cleaner salesman and his all-too-caring immigrant customer. "Mr. Gogol and Mr. Preen" takes place amid the wonderful clutter of Gogol's Manhattan apartment.

Mr. Preen, a straight-arrow product of a salesman's guide to success, easily finagles his way into Gogol's messy premises. Vacuum cleaner at the ready, he embarks on an analysis of Gogol's carpet problems, examines the grimy nap, discovers egg stains which he assures will be no problem, and soon has Gogol signing the dotted line.

When Preen is taken suddenly ill, Gogol becomes the solicitous attendant, offering variants of tea and sympathy and other manifestations of concern. Gogol doesn't merely phone Preen's boss. The resourceful host poses as Preen's physician. The more desperate Preen becomes, the more devious grows Gogol's rationale for his ministrations. Meanwhile, the immigrant anarchist sounds off on the state of the world. m a remarker," he says. "I make remarks." Call him a scattershot remarksman.

Hovering somewhere in the murky halls of the apartment house is a character identified only as The Woman, played by Zohra Lampert with feminine (not feminist) ardor and a Russian-Jewish accent to thicken her sentiments. The Woman jumps to all the wrong conclusions about Preen's presence.

Mike Nussbaum acts Gogol with a wonderful relish for the eccentric host, as devious as he is solicitous. William H. Macy's Preen is the ideal match in the mostly two-handed contest. He delivers Preen's discourse on the art of salesmanship with the aplomb of a valedictorian.

A Newhouse spectator may wonder at times whether the comic substance of "Mr. Gogol and Mr. Preen" is going to suffice for its two-hour (one intermission) duration. But the comic liveliness and good nature of the performance staged by Lincoln Center theater director Gregory Mosher usually sustain the comedy, even to the quiet denouement when the Gogol-Preen relationship takes a touchingly unexpected turn. John Lee Beatty's New York setting has been lighted for theatrical effect by Kevin Rigdon. Joan Gree n

wood's costumes become Ms. May's characters.

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