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Last Night at the Owl Bar

Tiffany James and Steve Lichtenstein feel the drinks in Last Night At The Owl Bar

By Robbie Whelan | Posted 8/15/2007

Last Night at the Owl Bar

By Mark Scharf

At the Chesapeake Arts Center through Aug. 19

The name of the Belvedere Hotel's Owl Bar evokes Baltimore's monumental past--visiting dignitaries and opera stars, H.L. Mencken's gritty literati, and a boozy speakeasy atmosphere. Mark Scharf's new play, Last Night at the Owl Bar, changes the pub into something entirely new: a safe, mature place where depressed, middle-aged losers can go to eat pretzels and whine about their love lives.

Jonathan's (Steve Lichtenstein) wife has left him because he is--wait for it--a self-absorbed playwright, and she never loved him to begin with. Rebecca (Katzi Carver) has lost her husband, who was her beshert--a Yiddish word meaning "beloved" or "soul mate"--leaving her grief-stricken and alone. These two meet nightly, to drink and comfort one another.

Things get a bit more complicated when Jonathan sleeps with his best friend Max's (John Lasher) girlfriend, Annie (Tiffany James), ruins several relationships, and ends up back where he started, trying to figure out what he wants from life.

The realistic scenes are interrupted by Jonathan's tedious meta-theatrical flights of fantasy. For example, in the first act, he muses, "My beshert is probably herding goats in Afghanistan," which leads him, inexplicably, to a scene somewhere near Kabul, trying to explain to two U.S. Army officers that he's looking for his soul mate. In another episode, he's a miserably bad Catskills-style stand-up comedian. In another, he gets served his final divorce papers by Sheriff Andy Taylor in his mind's own Mayberry. In another, he meets an Eskimo.

You're tempted to wonder whether this long, tiresome play was a therapeutic act for Scharf, a veteran and widely recognized local playwright. But then, after some consideration, the question becomes entirely irrelevant, because it turns out that Scharf has nothing at all interesting to say about divorce, relationships, or destiny. His Jonathan is so utterly lame and his interactions so infantile that his experience is incapable of serving as an example for the audience.

In the lone flashback-to-his-marriage scene, Jonathan tells his wife: "You must have loved me once . . . You don't stay married to a person for almost 20 years and have two kids with them if you don't love them." Like Rebecca's marriage, it seems, Jonathan's relationship was so extraordinarily one-dimensional, so totally defined simply by there being a marriage that produced kids, that there is no incentive to care about the details of why they broke up or to wonder what happens next.

Furthermore, Scharf's dialogue is flat, awkward, and used as the main vehicle for all of his plot exposition. He shirks subtlety and intrigue, preferring to have his characters go on and on about the consequences of betraying a friend before it ever happens, about exactly how they feel about missing their loved ones, about the "backed-up plumbing" that results from their middle-aged horniness.

The play's conclusion is expressed by the poem written above the bar at the actual Owl Bar: "A wise old owl sat on an oak/ The more he saw the less he spoke/ The less he spoke the more he heard . . . " with Scharf's addition, "Why can't we be more like that wise old bird?" The answer is that Scharf's characters are graceless, inane, and agitating--nothing at all like the famous bar or its winged patron.

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