Howard Katz

Wednesday, 13 June, 2001
Review by: 
Darren Dalglish

Patrick Marber, the writer and director of “Dealer’s Choice” and “Closer”, has come up with another winner in “Howard Katz”, a comedy of despair and desperation, which according to the press release, completes a loose trilogy set in contemporary London.

The story concerns ‘Howard Katz’, a father, son, husband, brother and showbiz agent who has turned fifty. He has suddenly become detached from life, no longer content, and searching for meaning. He has become angry at a marriage that his wife finds contentment in. When his wife explains that everything she wants is contained within their home, he turns away in disgust unable to comprehend why? He is shouting at everyone at work putting his job in jeopardy, and as he falls deeper into depression he becomes more self-destructive. What is he searching for? Where can he find it? Will he find it? What, if anything, will save him from this pit of despair that he is helplessly descending in?

Marber directs this soul-searching play with utter brutality leaving little space for one to develop compassion for Katz. I strangely felt no warmth for ‘Katz as he spiralled into mental torment. This may be because Marber does not provide any clues as to what has sparked this existential anguish in Katz? And also because the character does not come across as a broken man, more as a man still in ‘some’ control, but in control of what? Maybe his competitive job has turned him into a ruthless negotiator, which has spilled over into his private life resulting in him losing the ability to communicate with his family? Whatever, this is another powerful drama by Marber that is fascinating, intriguing and mesmerising.

Ron Cook produces a potent performance as ‘Howard Katz’. He is utterly convincing and dominates the stage with energy and a strong demeanour bringing to the role the fervour it requires. An Olivier award performance if ever there was one! The rest of the 10 strong cast perform adequately, but this is basically a ‘one character’ play!

The minimal set by Rob Howell works a treat, as it does not distract from the central character. Most of the time a park bench is the only prop!

Marber’s new play has received a luke-warm response from the popular press….. IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, “Much of Marber’s peppy writing…ensure that the play is never dull, and some moments…. have a real emotional edge…..But the play, diverting as it is, remains as dissatisfying as its ending…” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says Howard Katz is “marvellously played by the great and undervalued Ron Cook”. He goes on to say, “ Though individual scenes are often sharply written and blackly comic, none of the supporting cast are given enough time to develop fully rounded characters.” PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says Howard Katz is “played with an engaging, driven energy and end-of-the-tether recklessness by the wonderful Ron Cook”. He goes on to say, “It's good to report that Marber's new fervent pro-life stance hasn't robbed his writing of its bite.” MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, “The play is never dull, but leaves one feeling that Marber follows too many paths on the way to Howard's end.” NICHOLAS DE JONGH describes it as “a superficial wallow in the miseries of Howard Katz” and goes on to say, “Howard Katz is all heat and little light.” SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT describes it as "an uneven production". JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES describes the play as a "haunting, aching, wounding play.." and says, "Patrick Marber skilfully recaptures the essence of one man's cosmic struggle."

I do not believe this drama is as good as “Dealer’s Choice” or “Closer”, but nevertheless it is another sharp drama that is certain to be a hit for Marber.


(Photos by Ivan Kyncl)

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