At GSC, Horovitz’s ‘final exam’ for wives, lovers

L to R: Marie-Belle (Obehi Janice); Evvie (Paula Plum); Evelyn (Debra Wise) in “Out of the Mouths of Babes.” Photo: Gary Ng)

GLOUCESTER – They are a quartet of women with something in common: A man.

They come together in a Parisian apartment to – mourn? – the passing of the professor they were all romantically linked to in the New England premiere of “Out of the Mouths of Babes,” written and directed by Israel Horovitz at the Gloucester Stage Company.

The unnamed man is an American expatriate who found in Paris both success with women and a career teaching music at The Sorbonne, a professor who by turns delighted in and was delighted by a long succession of wives and lovers until finally cashing in his chips at the age of 100.

For Horovitz, the founder of the GSC, this play is part of a planned trilogy of plays based on Americans in Paris, a city that is, along with New York City, one of his several artistic homes; more than 50 of his works have been staged in France.

Paris was the setting for his play “My Old Lady,” which Horovitz directed as a movie starring Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas,

The attraction the dead man had for his paramours apparently extended beyond death, as three of his exes gather at the late professor’s apartment in the 19th Arrondissement,at the bequest of his last lover to conduct a “final exam” of their varied relationships with him.

Over the next 24 hours, they get to know and feud with one another in the late professor’s loft apartment overlooking a canal.

Debra Wise is tasked with playing a much older character than herself, the 88-year-old Evelyn and decided – presumably along with Horovitz – to make her a sprightly, upright old woman, and not someone stooped over. That makes the zingers and one-liners she delivers on a regular basis all the more believable

Paula Plum is Evvie, 68 (aka Snookie, which she hates) who is the meat in the sandwich between Evelyn and another wife, Janice, 58 (Sarah Hickler), who succeeded Evvie. That makes the interplay among the three all the more delicious

And Plum’s Evvie, who was never actually married to The Man is disrespected bigtime by the former wives,

Suffice it to say the three women have a lot to talk about beside the weather, and Horovitz arms them all with deadly arrows from his theatrical quiver.

Janice, who displaced Evvie when she married the professor, once tried to commit suicide by jumping out of one of the apartment windows, something Horovitz returns to again – and again and again, until it loses its comic value.

Obehi Janice’s star has been steadily rising on local stages and here she authors a delightful performance as Marie-Belle, the French-African woman who took up with the professor when she was just 17 and he was 79 and stayed with him until his death and, apparently, beyond.

She invites the former wives and lovers to the apartment to mourn the professor’s passing with the hope that they might form a sisterhood going forward.

Marie-Belle is convinced he is not only speaking to her from beyond the grave, but – ahem – tickling her and still performing other services which shall go unnamed here

Janice does it all with a thick French accent which never wavers and a buoyant joie de vivre.

Our portrait of the professor is slowly filled in by the women as they offer details of their own lives. along with their views of the man they all admit having loved.

At times Horovitz teeters on the edge of outright farce – there’s a particular scene with Marie-Belle dangling out the window – but for the most events stay grounded in reality until, of course, The Man in Question comes calling again from the hereafter.

The elaborately detailed Parisian apartment by Jenna McFarland Lord is adorned with works from Gloucester-area artists which are all for sale, with a catalog of the works included in the program.

Horovitz the director has done well here by Horovitz the playwright, casting well and with his design team putting the best face possible on his work.

Out of the Mouths of Babes” is not out to deliver great truths, rather acting as a chance for some fine actresses to have great fun with skilled writing while the audience is having that same fun along with them.

The Gloucester Stage Company production of “Out of the Mouths of Babes.” Written and directed by Israel Horovitz. At the GSC through September 2. Gloucesterstage.com

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