"Cornelius you're going to beat it when I'm gone."
"Don't shit me."
Saw her face. Turning aside so close in through the window. Lips still eyes aglisten with tears. Car K beginning so slowly to move. While it's there. You can hold it all back. Grab her shoulders. Keep her. Till she's gone in your dream. And then she stays. As the train's last red lights go rattling. Away in the dark.
- J.P. Donleavy from A Fairy Tale of New York
'Fairy Tales' given deft reading by Influence troupe"
by Mary R. Martin
Author J.P. Donleavy is in good hands with A Theatre Under the Influence. Five actors revel in the passion and humor of this son of Brooklyn and adopted son of Ireland in the West Coast premiere of "Fairy Tales of New York."
Craig Bradshaw, director of Theatre Under the Influence, has an affinity for Donleavy, who he says "saved my life at least once." Donleavy is best known for his 1958 [sic]  novel, "Ginger Man."
Bradshaw's performers deftly play what their characters are trying to show and, even better, what they are trying to hide.
In the first scene of four, Brandon Whitehead as Cornelius Christian is trying to look at his deceased wife's body in an open casket. He's afraid if he does he will remember her dead image, not her living one. He wants to keep her "asleep on top of my brain." Before he says anything to the hovering mortician, we know what it will be. "Shut the casket; screw it down."
From tragedy, the scene quickly shifts to farce as the mortician touts the grisly pleasures of his trade. Charles Leggett, a regular at Influence, plays the mortician and several other roles with a lumbering, bear-like presence and a lust for the Irish-New York color of Donleavy's scenes.
Whitehead, as Christian throughout the evening's four scenes, is an adroit foil for the out-front Leggett. He is smaller, ferret-like. He exudes a taut energy that makes us watch for the smallest twitch of an eyebrow because that one gesture may say everything.
The funeral parlor sequence is followed by Christian's job-hunting adventure. Here he confronts a diabolical human resources rep (Andy McCone). McCone mixes out-and-out slapstick with a depth of interpretation reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman in his best comic roles.
Next is a boxing match between a blubbery blowhard (Leggett) and the tight-muscled Christian. Fight choreographer Geoffrey Aln makes the bout appear spontaneous, scary and hilarious all at once. By now we know that each scene will set Christian up for a win or a loss, but this scene is the most explicit of the theme. Christian is Everyman, and his life is a series of tests.
The boxing scene is one of the best acted by the principals, by sexpot ingénue Jen Taylor, and by scrappy fight manager Aaron Finkelstein. Taylor and Finkelstein draw their character with such crisp detail that they create a little universe of the boxing gym.
Bradshaw might have been best advised to cut the final scene, which takes place in an upscale restaurant where Christian takes his old high school flame on a date. This tale lacks the punch and payoff of the other three.
But all in all, "Fairy Tales of New York" is a fine showcase for A Theatre Under the Influence. It allows Influence actors to display their tight, ensemble talents, and it lets director Bradshaw share one of his favorite author's scrumptious prose with the audience.