Ms. Harris brings a surge of anguished conviction to a poetic litany in which Levana mourns the blank future: "We'll feed off the dead. We'll sell the dead. One by one. The only thing this place produces. We'll trade the dead, we'll buy milk with the dead, we'll warm ourselves with the coal of the dead." But there is more dutiful professionalism than passion in her performance, and in Mr. Cullum's spry turn as the pessimistic Atom.
Regardless of their material, Harris and Cullum are eminently watchable. So harmonious are their physical rhythms together that they truly appear to be a longtime couple. Gene Farber is a gruff yet oddly appealing figure as the officious fellow who may or may not be their beloved son.
Harris, one of the theater's greatest living treasures, makes an equally vivid contribution whenever the script allows her to. A still-youthful 78, she brings her trademark dignity, conviction, and expressiveness to the role of headstrong Levana Julak, and she does everything possible -- if not more -- with a couple of nearly heartbreaking speeches in the play's more serious second half. But watching Harris try to breathe life into this disappointing work only makes us long to see her in the kind of triumphant role that her contemporaries Lois Smith and Frances Sternhagen are now playing in The Trip to Bountiful and Seascape, respectively.
Ms. Harris fares best despite being given much of Mr. Dorfman's most selfconsciously florid material. ("We'll build your toilet with the samples we take from the dead, we'll make love in the night blessing the dead.")
There's no doubt about it. The pairing of Rosemary Harris and John Cullum onstage is delectable. Her feisty charm matches his sweet curmudgeonly presence beautifully. The opportunity to watch their wonderfully complementary presences and their sense of craftsmanship when it comes to character truly is an early holiday gift. Unfortunately, Ariel Dorfman's The Other Side, the play in which theatergoers can find Harris and Cullum currently and which opened last night in a Manhattan Theatre Club production at City Center Stage I, is not an equal cause for celebration.
Theatergoers will savor Harris and Cullum's performances as they enter into these minor skirmishes and pondering their implications in the larger, and less successful, context, of Dorfman's play. Audiences, looking for fresh and insightful, anti-war theater, however, would be well advised to look elsewhere.
The cast, lead by Rosemary Harris and John Cullum, is top-notch. The seasoned stage veterans do surprisingly well with the bipolar script. Director Blanka Zizka is lucky to have them. As the guard, Gene Farber makes the most out of a fairly one-note role.
If you are a fan of Harris or Cullum, The Other Side may prove to be a worthwhile and provocative outing. If you really want a war comedy, stick with M*A*S*H.
She has the bemused, tufted smile of a cat. He has the ornery bluff of a buzzard. Rosemary Harris and John Cullum are riveting together as Levana and Atom, a long-married couple who bury the dead for money during decades of war between his town and her former village.
Whatever the heavy-handed frailties of Ariel Dorfman's "The Other Side," the 75-minute wartime parable that opened last night at Manhattan Theatre Club, the connection between these theater royals is electric. Every time we think the absurdist drama might've been more provocative as a short story, an unexpected rough gesture from the elegant Harris or a lemon-tinged outburst from the low-key Cullum pulls us into the material with urgency.