NEW YORK — IN PERSONS
Directed by Martin Charnin. At the Kaufman Theater.
ANNE JACKSON and Eli Wallach have been enjoying a love affair with each other and with audiences for nearly 50 years. They share their affection in the new theater piece ``In Persons,'' currently ensconced in the tiny Off-Broadway Kaufman Theater.
The show, casually directed by Martin Charnin, is a combination of an informal get-together with the esteemed actor-couple and an advanced acting class as they recreate scenes from some of their biggest successes.
They can hardly be blamed if the pieces allow them to show off their talents with minimal effort. Their initiative is appreciated in these lean times for drama, and they may never again have a vehicle as amusing as Murray Schiegal's ``Luv.'' A scene from ``Luv'' proves to be one of the evening's highlights.
Performing on a bare stage, whose hidden side panels reveal various props and furniture, the couple performs scenes from such works as Jean Anouilh's ``The Waltz of the Toreadors,'' Terence Rattigan's ``Harlequinade'' (portraying a long-in-the-tooth acting couple playing Romeo and Juliet in the British provinces), and George Bernard Shaw's ``Major Barbara.''
The scenes don't work particularly well on their own; the lengthy excerpt from ``Toreadors,'' which closes the evening, is particularly weak. But the opportunity to watch these performers re-create their past work, particularly from a vantage point a few feet from the stage (the theater is extremely intimate), is irresistible for students of theater history.
WALLACH and Jackson are also skillful enough performers to make us believe that their banter and their reminiscences are being made up on the spot, no small acting feat in affairs of this kind. Wallach is particularly funny as he relates anecdotes about beginning his movie career.
In the film ``Baby Doll,'' costar Karl Malden advised him not to open his mouth too wide in front of the cameras; as a result Wallach played his first scene like a ventriloquist. He also worked with director Sergio Leone in the early Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. Leone, attempting to demonstrate a smooth move with a gun, succeeded merely in injuring himself, Wallach recounts.
A particularly successful segment had the performers attempting to one-up each other by reciting poems by Dorothy Parker and Samuel Hoffenstein about the battle of the sexes.
The audience affection for this veteran acting couple is palpable from the beginning, and this entrancing evening helps make it clear why the two deserve it. Because ``In Persons'' is a mere diversion, it makes us hunger for real performances by these stars. Both are still capable of wonderful work, as Wallach's recent performance in the Broadway revival of ``The Price'' proved. Until more parts come along, however, we will have to settle for this hodgepodge. Only a curmudgeon would deny this duo the opportunity to celebrate their love and their talent.