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Four women, one man, and classic Israel Horovitz

Journal Correspondent

Obehi Janice, Sarah Hickler, Debra Wise and Paula Plum in “Out of the Mouths of Babes’’ at Gloucester Stage. Photo by Gary Ng

AUGUST 24, 2017 – Israel Horovitz is a playwright in love with the mysteries at the heart of people’s lives. That was true of the revelations about Jewish apartment heir Mathias Gold and 94-year-old tenant Mathilde in his intriguing 1999 play set in Paris, “My Old Lady.” So it goes for his 2016 Off-Broadway hit, “Out of the Mouth of Babes,” now in an appealing New England premiere at founding former artistic director Horovitz’s Gloucester Stage Company.

Ultimately, this four-character comedy may provide little insight about the very different women, but director Horovitz makes the resulting encounter intriguing nonetheless.

These women ‒ Evelyn, 88, Evvie, 68, Janice, 58, and Marie Belle, 38 ‒ have been involved with a 100-year-old man who loved each of them, at times simultaneously. Horovitz’s play often has more to do with their respective memories of this man whose funeral they will be attending – an eclectic music buff who loved Chopin, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Rolling Stones – than with their own situations and fortunes.

All four women refer to the deceased Sorbonne professor as “He” or “Him.” An added ironic touch has Evelyn – who seems to know about Jewish mourning traditions – asking about the covering of a mirror, though the play never actually identifies “Him” as being Jewish.

Ironies aside, Horovitz does make the women’s exchanges alternately amusing and telling. Evelyn, one of “Him’s” wives, comes across as a reflective if sometimes rueful sage who believes that there may be no men that make women happy. Evvie darkly compares much of her experience writing screenplays to the work of undertakers. Teacher Janice, who has periodically attempted suicide, wonders if she is like “some Samuel Beckett character cursed to go on” and describes herself as an unwanted twin who “crawled out on my own.” Marie Belle, who was with the professor when he passed, believes that his spirit inhabits the spacious apartment, and he even tickles her, which calls to mind the meddling late wife’s spirit in the Noel Coward gem, “Blithe Spirit.”

The talented cast makes the most of the play’s material. Debra Wise captures Evelyn’s vulnerability as well as her hauteur. Paula Plum catches Evvie’s alternating exasperation and effervescence. Sarah Hickler finds all of Janice’s sadness and insecurity without turning her into a caricature. Obehi Janice is a standout as Senegal native Marie Belle, both with a properly thick French accent as the one non-American and a winning evocation of her character’s very humorous moments responding to the supposed spirit.

“Out of the Mouths of Babes” may not have as much lingering power as “Blithe Spirit,” but Horovitz and company make this candid talkfest a winner.

“Out of the Mouths of Babes,” Gloucester Stage Company, through September 2. gloucesterstage.com, 978-281-4433.

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Tommy Labanaris (Dr. Frederick Frankenstein) and the company of North Shore Music Theatre’s production of the Mel Brooks musical, “Young Frankenstein.” Photo by Paul Lyden

Transylvanians dance a Russian Kazatzke right out of “Fiddler on the Roof.” The 7-foot Monster taps in top hat and tails to the Irving Berlin classic “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Who else but Jewish iconoclast Mel Brooks would make such comic invention an integral part of the 2007 Broadway musical “Young Frankenstein,” based on his own 1974 cult classic film of the same name.

Director-choreographer Kevin Hill has a strong cast making this shamelessly silly but rollicking show a hilarious high-stepping revival at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly. Tommy Labanaris proves appealingly adventurous as naïve young scientist Frederick Frankenstein, and Brian Padgett is a likeable hoot as The Monster. Brad Bradley has just the right blend of nonchalance and peculiarity as Igor and Brooke Lacy the allure and sincerity of laboratory assistant Inga.

“It’s alive!” shouts the excited scientist in the classic film. Say the same for North Shore’s energetic revival of Brooks’ Borscht Belt fun.

“Young Frankenstein,” North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, through August 27. nsmt.org, 978-232-7200.

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