Friday, April 24, 2015

The Belle of Belfast at DR2 Theatre

L-R: Kate Lydic and Hamish Allan-Headley in THE BELLE OF BELFAST. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Virtually everyone in Belfast in 1985 (whether Catholic or Protestant, young or old) was affected by the Irish “troubles,” although the manner in which they attempted to cope with their predicaments varied widely from person to person.  For one it might be religion; for another, alcohol or drugs; and for yet a third, sexual rebellion. Thus, Ben Reilly (Hamish Allan-Headley), raised to be a good Catholic but orphaned as a young boy when his parents perished in a car crash, eventually became a mild-mannered Catholic priest, taking solace in his religious faith and certain that his parents, looking down upon him from Heaven, were pleased with the path he had taken.  Dermott Behan (Billy Meleady), on the other hand, another priest with whom Ben shared living quarters in later life (but one who was much angrier and fiery than his clerical roommate) found solace of a different sort: he sought comfort in alcohol.  And Anne Malloy (Kate Lydic), who also was orphaned at a very young age when her parents were blown up as collateral damage in an IRA terrorist explosion, thereby becoming martyrs to their cause, found an entirely different solution: she acted out as a sassy, rebellious, promiscuous, seductive teenager, ultimately engaging in the most damaging sexual behavior.
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Anne is the central character in The Belle of Belfast written by Nate Rufus Edelman and directed by Claudia Weil, produced by the Irish Repertory Theatre and currently enjoying its New York premiere at its temporary location at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square in downtown Manhattan, and the play revolves primarily around her relationship with Father Reilly, the parish priest who is twice her age.  The play treads very familiar ground but does so effectively, largely due to the remarkable talent and professionalism of its entire cast which, in addition to Allan-Headley, Meleady and Lydic, includes Patricia Conolly as Emma Malloy (Anne’s somewhat loopy great-aunt who has cared for her since Anne was orphaned) and Arielle Hoffman as Ciara Murphy (Anne’s best friend who is as lost as Anne is).

In our last review (of a recent revival of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros) we commented on man’s frequently foolish tendency to focus on the trivial and insignificant at the expense of the truly important.  Ironically, something quite similar is at issue in The Belle of Belfast.  In Rhinoceros we were introduced to characters who were more concerned over whether the rhinoceroses they encountered were Asian or African or had one horn or two than with the massive devastation they were causing.  In The Belle of Belfast, Emma dwells on such trivia as where and by whom it might be appropriate for her to be touched and by the sin she might have committed by viewing an incident of shoplifting rather than any of the larger issues in life.  Duncan is seemingly more concerned with the number of Hail Marys to prescribe in the professional for the most minor of religious infractions than with the death and destruction all about him (he actually takes pleasure in the martyrdom of Anne’s parents since it entailed the deaths of seven Protestants as well).  And Anne is persistently hung up on replacing all her “fucking” profanity with milder “fecking” expletives, a distinction which actually seems to matter to Father Reilly (who remains more concerned over maintaining his relationship with the Church than with his relationship with Anne, even at her time of greatest anguish).
 
It is a sad but all too true commentary on the human condition.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Ionesco's Rhinocerous in Revival by Onomatopoeia Theatre Company



The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company
Presents
Rhinoceros
by Eugene Ionesco

Rhinoceros poster art - “The Rhinoceros” woodcut (1598) David Kandel

Eugene Ionesco wrote Rhinoceros in 1959, more than a half-century ago; it was first produced a year later under the direction of Orson Welles at the Royal Court Theatre in London, starring Laurence Olivier as Berenger.  In 1961, the play moved to Broadway, featuring Eli Wallach as Berenger and Zero Mostel as Jean, a role for which Mostel won that year’s Tony Award.  In 1973, it was adapted for the movies (still called Rhinoceros) and in 1990 it was adapted for a musical entitled Born Again.  Currently it is being revived in a limited off off Broadway run by The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company at the Gene Frankel Theater on Bond Street in downtown Manhattan, starring Adam G. Brooks as Berenger and Alex Levitt as Jean.  This is a very ambitious project for Onomatopoeia to undertake, considering how high Olivier, Wallach and Mostel set the bar in their earlier performances, but both Brooks and Levitt, although relatively young actors, have proven themselves to be up to the task and both can take justifiable pride in their own performances.

The play’s plot is a classic example of the theatrical genre known as “Theatre for the Absurd,“ the movement with which Ionesco is most closely identified.  One or two rhinoceroses are running amok in a small peaceful French town.  Nor are these ordinary rhinoceroses that may have escaped from some local zoo or traveling circus.  Far from it.  They actually are people who have contracted "rhinoceritis," a strange malady that turns its victims into full-fledged rhinoceroses (Asian or African, take your pick), horns and all.  Before long, there are not just one or two rhinoceroses on the loose but dozens – a full-fledged epidemic.  But what does it all mean and what, if anything, should be done about it?

Thomas R. Gordon, Onomatopoeia’s Artistic Director has affirmed that the Company seeks …to create theatre with a focus on sound! Any and all types of sound!  Whether it is music, yelling or a symphony of emotions, we aim to create theatre that must be heard to really be seen!”  Well, if that is the Company’s mission, I can think of no better play for it to have revived than Rhinoceros, what with all the stomping, grunting, wheezing and trumpeting emanating from the pachyderms from which the play derives its name. 

But of course Ionesco’s motive in writing his play wasn’t just to make noise.  He had some very important things to say and while critics and playgoers continue to disagree on whether his primary goal was to indict the Communist movement (much as George Orwell did in Animal Farm), or whether it was to condemn Vichy France’s collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, or whether it was just one more example of existential angst (think Becket or Camus), there are at least three points on which they are all in substantial agreement:
First, the play certainly is an attack on conformity and the willingness of all too many otherwise decent and well-meaning people to capitulate unthinkingly to the will of the majority.  It is quite similar to the point that Ibsen asserted in Enemy of the People when he proclaimed that “The majority is never right.  Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against.”  Edmund Burke expressed a similar sentiment when he wrote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In Rhinoceros it is Berenger (a somewhat irresponsible sot) who turns out to be that last “free and intelligent man,” retaining his humanity in the face of the “rhinoceritis” epidemic, even as he watches one after another of his friends and neighbors– ultimately even including his best friend, Jean, and his sweetheart, Daisy (Charlotte Vaughan Raines) – succumb to the deadly disease, despite their most vehement initial protestations.  Apparently, when push came to shove, they all decided that one must “go along to get along” and that despite one’s personal values, one should “not be judgmental” but should simply “live and let live.”  Maybe being a rhinoceros wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Second, Ionesco clearly intended to mock mankind’s frequent tendency to focus on the trivial and ignore what is truly important - in short, to fail to see the forest for the trees.  The Logician (Clinton Powell) and The Old Gentleman (Albert Baker), played almost as if they were Estragon and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, discuss at great length whether the first two rhinoceros sightings were of one and the same rhinoceros at two different moments in time or were of two different animals; whether the beasts had one horn apiece or two or whether one rhino might have had one horn and the other two - if, indeed, there really were two different animals; or, if there actually had been only one rhinoceros after all, whether it might have had two horns at the time of its initial sighting but lost one before it was sighted the second time; whether the animal (or animals) were Asian or African rhinoceroses; whether it is the Asian rhinoceros that has one horn and the African rhinoceros that has two or whether it might not be the other way around; and on and on.  Lost in all the verbiage was any consideration of the fact that the rhinoceroses were wreaking havoc throughout the town.  And that ultimately, as they spread, the consequences for the entire world could be absolutely catastrophic.  One rhino or two, one horn or two, Asian or African - who really cares?

Third, Ionesco holds up to ridicule those who simply deny reality whenever they find it unpleasant to accept.  Thus Mr. Botard (also played by Clinton Powell) vehemently denies to Ms Dudard (Zoe V. Speas) that the rhinoceros (or rhinoceroses) even exist, let alone represent a threat to the town, despite all of the eye witness testimony to that effect.  And he denies to Mrs. Boeuf (Julia Register) that humans could possibly be turning into rhinoceroses, despite the fact that she claims to have just seen her husband turn into one.  These are simply facts that he chooses not to face.  Until, that is, Mr. Boeuf, who has, indeed, turned into a rhinoceros, shows up to destroy the staircase leading to the office in which Mr. Botard is holding forth, necessitating both his and Ms Dudard’s rescues by several firemen.

Rhinoceros was first produced barely fifteen years after the end of World War II and during the very earliest stages of the Cold War when the Soviet Union still dominated half the world.  Understandably, it was especially relevant at that time, with the world still very much aware of the horrors that can accompany an unwillingness to confront evil in all its incarnations in order to avoid being deemed too judgmental, too unconventional, or simply unwilling to see the other guy’s side..  But although World War II and the Cold War are behind us, the fact remains that the play is just as relevant today as it ever was.

Today’s “rhinoceroses” are no longer Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union but they are Al Qaeda and ISIS, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea.  Russia’s seizure of Crimea was eerily reminiscent of the Nazis’ annexation of Sudetenland and the world’s acquiescence in the one is as frightening as it is in the other.  And yet, as today’s “political correctness” segues into moral relativism, we find the President of the United States evaluating Islamist terrorism through the prism of the Catholic Inquisition of more than 500 years ago; seeking to understand Shariah law (which mandates stoning and decapitation for adultery or blasphemy) by viewing it through the eyes of those raised in other cultures; and urging negotiations over nuclear weapons with a rogue state committed to the sponsorship of world terrorism, the denial of the right of Israel even to exist, and the rallying cry “Death to America.”  It is tantamount to his attempting to sit down to tea with a rhinoceros.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Terrific Revival of The King and I at Lincoln Center Theater

L-R: Kelli O'Hara and Ken Watanabe in THE KING AND I
In 2008, Kelli O’Hara garnered well-deserved Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for her phenomenal performance as Nellie Forbush in Lincoln Center Theater’s wonderful revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.  Now we’re about to find out if lightning, indeed, can strike twice.  Lincoln Center Theater has just launched its revival of The King and I, another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre with Ms O’Hara again appearing in the starring role – this time as Anna Leonowens, a strong-willed English school teacher who contracts to travel to Siam to teach the children of the King (Ken Watanabe) and who ends up getting much more than she bargained for (as does the King).  And, as it turns out, lightning does strike twice: she is just as terrific in the role of Anna as she was as Nellie Forbush and this revival of The King and I is just as good as was the LCT”s justifiably acclaimed revival of South Pacific seven years ago.

But it is not just Ms O’Hara that makes this revival such a roaring success: this is simply a superlative production on virtually all counts.  Michael Yeargan’s set design is astounding from the opening scene in which Anna’s ship virtually sails directly into the midst of the audience to the sumptuous scenes of the King’s splendid palace.  The director and the cast have made very good use of much more of the theater than just the stage, with dramatic entrances and exits effected from several aisles. Christopher Gattelli’s choreography is truly amazing - a spectacular blend of Eastern and Western movement.  And Catherine Zuber’s costume designs are smart and richly evocative.

But the most important factor in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is, of course, the music and here this revival benefits especially form the magnificent voices not only of Ms O’Hara but also of Ruthie Ann Miles (who plays the part of Lady Thiang, the King’s Number One wife, to absolute perfection), and Ashley Park (cast as Tuptim, the young girl presented to the King as a “gift” from the King of Burma whose voice is absolutely thrilling.  The large supporting cast is positively first rate – especially the many children of the King whose insouciance adds a delightful spice to the mix.  

Indeed, my only misgiving about the casting of this show related, ironically, to the King, himself.  Unquestionably, Mr. Watanabe is an accomplished actor with an impressive resume, including Japanese theater credits for his performances in Hamlet, The Lion in Winter, Dialogue with Horowitz, and The Royal Hunt of the Sun, as well as credits for his roles in several films including The Last Samurai (for which he received Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations).  This production of The King and I, however, marks his debut on the American stage and it is unfortunately wanting. While he succeeds in displaying his formidable acting skills in his conflicted role as the absolute ruler of a nation aspiring to transition from barbarism to a place among the nations of the civilized world while retaining its cultural values, neither his articulation nor his singing voice were on a par with those of the show’s three female principals (admittedly a very high bar).  But notwithstanding my disappointment over that one shortcoming, this production has so much else going for it that it truly deserves inclusion in any list of Lincoln Center’s many superb revivals of classic musicals.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

When Black Boys Die at Theater for the New City



L-R: R. Ashley Bowles, Scarlett Smith, Lorenzo A. Jackson, and Brandon Mellette in WHEN BLACK BOYS DIE.  Photo by Rosalie Baijer.
William Electric Black is an exceptionally versatile, talented and socially conscious writer whose interests range from encouraging exercise and good nutrition for children to prescription drug awareness and obesity and stroke prevention.  A seven time Emmy Award winning writer for his work on Sesame Street, he is currently engaged in writing. producing, and directing a series of five plays (collectively called Gunplays) addressing the dangers of inner city violence and guns.

The first of these plays, Welcome Home Sonny T., a powerful politically correct polemic in favor of gun control and he rights of illegal aliens, was staged at the Theater for the New City (TNC) on First Avenue in lower Manhattan a little more than a year ago and we enjoyed it immensely.  Now the second play in the series, When Black Boys Die, is premiering at the TNC and, much as we enjoyed Welcome Home Sonny T., we liked when Black Boys Die even more.

When Black Boys Die centers on the untimely shooting death of Levon Weeks (Torre Reigns), a remarkable young man who, despite having been raised by a single mother in the projects, is on the verge of entering Syracuse University on a basketball scholarship.  His death occurs in the wake of his coming to the aid of Cece Torres (Scarlett Smith) to prevent her from being raped by Dray Oliver (Brandon Mellette), a neighborhood gang leader and drug dealer – and his death has repercussions throughout the neighborhood.  Ruby Weeks (Verna Hampton), Levon’s mother, becomes obsessed by the desire to engage the community into taking action against the senseless gun violence that has taken her son’s life by listing and posting the names of everyone killed in the community since her son’s death on the Fourth of July.  And Danielle Weeks (Brittney Benson), Levon’s sister and Cece’s friend, is driven to try to find out exactly what happened on the fateful day.

The play is well written and beautifully acted and not without its surprises.  Mr. Jackson (Lavern Williams), a high school art teacher who tries valiantly to mentor and inspire the neighborhood youth, provides a moral counterbalance to the depravity of gangbangers like Dray and his sidekick, JB (Lorenzo A. Jackson).   And even “Say What” (R. Ashley Bowles), an elderly neighborhood street vendor, has his moment in the sun, suggesting that even the least among us ought not be taken for granted, let alone counted out.



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Mystery of Love and Sex at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater

L-R: Mamoudou Athie, Diane Lane, Tony Shaloub, and Gayle Rankin in THE MYSTERY OF LOVE & SEX,
The Mystery of Love and Sex by Bathsheba Doran, currently being staged at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, is little more than a pretentious parody of a soap opera.  Will Charlotte (Gayle Rankin), a white, Jewish lesbian marry Jonny (Mamoudou Athie), a black, Baptist homosexual who is her college classmate and her “bff” since childhood?  Or isn’t she really lesbian at all?  Might she be bi-sexual – or maybe even heterosexual and just sexually curious?  And is Jonny really homosexual or is he simply preserving his virginity until marriage because of his religious convictions?  Or might he just be sexually confused too?  And does anybody care?

When Howard (Tony Shaloub) and Lucinda (Diane Lane) arrive on campus to visit Charlotte, they discover for the first time that Charlotte and Jonny’s relationship may not be quite as platonic as they were led to believe – and they’re not at all happy about it.  But why not?  They’d always liked Jonny, so what’s the problem?  It can’t be the difference in Charlotte’s and Jonny’s religions or cultural backgrounds since Howard is a New York Jew and Lucinda was born a Southern Christian (although she subsequently converted to Judaism) and if they didn’t allow their own families’ objections to their marriage to stand in their way, why should they object to their daughter’s following a similar course?.  Moreover, they had their own gay experiences in their youth (in reality in Lucinda’s case and at least in his imagination in Howard’s) so it can’t be Charlotte’s and Jonny’s sexual experimentation that’s bothering them.   Could it be that they – Heaven forfend! – are closet racists without even realizing it themselves?

As you might imagine, all of this “PC” stuff is enough to hold the audience’s attention for a while but eventually it does start to pall.  Not to worry.  Some gratuitous total nudity by Charlotte might re-ignite your interest.  And since this is, after all, a really politically correct show, it just wouldn’t do to restrict such  gratuitous nudity to white women.  So we are treated to additional color blind theatrics, in the form of  more gratuitous total nudity by Jonny too.

Rankin, Athie, Shaloub and Lane are all highly professional and do as good a job as might be expected of them with the material they’ve been given.  But while this mash-up may be very politically correct and occasionally maybe even a little titillating, it’s really not a lot to work with.  Indeed, it gives new meaning to the term “PC.”  Here it’s not only “politically correct” (although it surely is that), but it’s “pruriently caricaturish” and a “puerile conceit” as well.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Fashions for Men by Ferenc Molnar in Revival at Mint Theater

L-R: Joe Delafield and Annie Purcell in FASHIONS FOR MEN.  Photo by Richard Termine.
Ever since its founding in 1995, the Mint Theater Company, arguably one of the finest off-Broadway theater companies in the city, has been dedicated to the mission of unearthing and producing lost or neglected but worthwhile plays of the past and infusing them with new vitality.  For the past two decades, it has held true to its mission, staging impressive revivals of seldom seen works by playwrights ranging from A.A. Milne to Edith Wharton, from Thomas Wolfe to D.H. Lawrence, from John Galsworthy to Leo Tolstoy, and from Ernest Hemingway to Arnold Bennett.  Now, for its first production this year, the Mint, located on West 43rd Street in midtown Manhattan, is staging a freshened revival of Fashions for Men by Ferenc Molnar and it is another winner.


Molnar was an internationally acclaimed Hungarian playwright of the early 1900s, whose best known works are Liliom (upon which the classic musical Carousel was based), The Guardsman, and The Play’s the Thing.  Less well known is Fashions for Men, a light hearted comedy that was first produced in Budapest in 1917, although it subsequently did make it to New York in 1922 where it had a successful run on Broadway and was adapted into a motion picture (renamed Fine Clothes) in 1925.

Fashions for Men plays out in three acts, two set in an upscale haberdashery in Budapest and one in the Count’s study at his manorial estate, Gerelypuszta, and the sets themselves merit comment.  They are simply terrific, far superior to what one is accustomed to seeing off-Broadway and at least the equivalent of what one generally finds even on Broadway.  Daniel Zimmerman, the play’s Scenic Designer, deserves to be singled out for the major contribution his work makes to the success of this show.

Now to the play itself.  Peter Juhasz, the proprietor of the haberdashery (Joe Delafield), is a very good man, beloved by all, who sees nothing but the best in everyone.  But it is his very goodness that turns out to be his undoing as it results in his being taken advantage of by all around him.   Although many of his customers fail to pay their bills, he continues to extend them credit to the point that he is approaching bankruptcy.  He still might have pulled it out, but when his wife, Adele (Annie Purcell) steals from him and absconds with Oscar, his top salesman (John Tufts), it is just too much, and the shop is thrown into receivership.

Nonetheless, Peter blames himself rather than Adele or Oscar for his plight and bears neither of them any ill will.  He is, in short, something of a saintly schlemiel – the sort of person who, if you recall the punch line of the old joke, persists in asserting that “There must be a pony in there somewhere!”  Instead, he resolves to return to work for the Count, a former employer and benefactor, (Kurt Rhoads) who retains such affection for Peter that he offers him the position of general director of the Count’s Gerelypuszta Cheese Exporting Company.

As it turns out, the Count’s affections extend even more to Paula (Rachel Napoleon), the pretty young thing in Peter’s employ at the haberdashery shop, with whom he had been carrying on a flirtation whenever he visited the shop.  Peter had seen himself not only as her employer but also as her protector, a relationship that Paula also presumably bought into.  So when Peter reveals that he will be leaving the haberdashery shop, Paula contends that she will have to leave too, even if the shop’s new owners would be willing to keep her on, because her mother would never allow her to work for anyone other than Peter and she wouldn’t dream of opposing her mother’s wishes.

L-R: Rachel Napoleon and Kurt Rhoads in FASHIONS FOR MEN.  Photo by Richard Termine.
And so Paula elects to work for Peter at the Count’s cheese company, which is all well and good with the Count, who has had his eye on Paula all along.  And, of course, Paula has her own ulterior motive in following Peter.  As she explains to Philip, another of Peter’s employees at the haberdashery shop (Jeremy Lawrence), she intends to follow Philip to Gerelypuszta so as not to let His Excellency, the Count, slip through her fingers (although she will pretend to Philip that it is only because she doesn’t want to abandon him in his hour of need).

Before the play is over, the relationships among Peter, Paula, the Count, and Oscar have become increasingly complicated but it is all great fun and lest I be forced to issue a plethora of  spoiler alerts, I’d best say no more about the plot’s evolution and resolution.  Suffice it to say that the entire cast is just wonderful, that the play is cheerful and uplifting, and that I left the theater with a broader smile on my face and a bit more jaunty lift to my step than when I entered it.



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rocket to the Moon by Clifford Odets in Revival

L-R: Ned Eisenberg and Marilyn Matarrese in ROCKET TO THE MOON.
In 1938, in the wake of the Great Depression and with Nazism and Fascism on the rise, the world appeared to be on the brink of collapse.  In the same year, Clifford Odets’s personal life was also imploding: his wife had filed for divorce and the Group Theatre, the collective which already had produced five of his plays, seemed to be falling apart.  And it was then that Odets wrote Rocket to the Moon, which was staged that year by the Group Theater and opened to mixed reviews at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway.


Surely it is no coincidence that the play, also set in 1938 in New York City, relates the tale of Ben Stark (Ned Eisenberg), a struggling dentist whose own marriage and career are in similar distress.  Dental patients are difficult to come by when people must choose between dental treatment and putting food on the table to feed their families.  (Dental treatment will lose out every time.)  Phil Cooper (Larry Bull), another struggling dentist who sublets space from Stark is in similar dire straits.  He is an incipient alcoholic who hasn’t paid his rent for several months, which only serves to worsen Stark’s position.

Mr. Prince (Jonathan Hadary), Stark’s wealthy and idiosyncratic father-in-law has generously offered to fund Stark’s purchase of more modern dental equipment and a move uptown to posher quarters, an offer that Stark, who always had big dreams, is inclined to accept.  But Stark’s wife, Belle (Marilyn Matarresse), who is largely estranged from her own father, is more reluctant to accept the offer.  There is a deep bond of friendship and affection between her and her husband – they have been married for a decade and endured the loss of a child together – but their relationship lacks passion and she never shared her husband’s grand ambitions.

When Stark hires Cleo Singer (Katie McClellan), a vibrant girl half his age, to be his dental assistant, the emptiness of Stark’s life is brought into sharper focus.  His practice is failing and he is stuck in a loveless marriage.  Cleo claims to have fallen in love with him and he has fallen for her.  Should he leave his wife and take a “rocket to the moon” with Cleo?  Or is he just suffering from a temporary mid-life crisis that will fade with time?

The situation is confounded even further by Mr. Prince’s falling in love with Cleo himself and by her being lusted after as well by Willy Wax (Lou Liberatore), one of Stark’s smarmier patients.  Rounding out the cast is Walter “Frenchy” Jensen (Michael Keyloun), a podiatrist from down the hall whose role is more that of the cynical outsider who is eager to comment on the world’s foibles while reluctant to commit himself.

L-R: Jonathan Hadary and Katie McClellan in ROCKET TO THE MOON.
The basic theme of Rocket to the Moon is one of “settling.”  Belle is overt about it: she is prepared to settle because “half a loaf is better than none.”  Mr. Prince, despite his wealth, is resentful about the fact that, under pressure from his own deceased wife (Belle’s mother), he settled for a business career rather than pursuing his dream of acting – which goes a long way toward explaining his encouragement of Stark to follow his own dream no matter the cost and his estrangement from his own daughter.  Cleo refuses to settle for the reality of her own impoverished life and conjures up a world of lies and fantasy instead.  And it is Stark’s personal crisis – whether or not to settle for the life he has with Belle and a middling dental practice or to give it all up to take a risky shot at greater happiness with Cleo – that is at the core of the play.

Rocket to the Moon has not been revived nearly as often as some of Odets’s better-known works including Waiting for Lefty, Awake and Sing and Golden Boy, despite the fact that Odets’s son, Walt, came to see it as his father’s “magnum opus” and the playwright Arthur Miller considered it to be Odets’s best play.  Fortunately that oversight is now being corrected by a wonderful revival by The Peccadillo Theater Company at Theatre at St. Clements on West 46th Street in midtown Manhattan.

In this production, Ned Eisenberg does a fine job in depicting Stark’s general ambivalence toward life, his weakness, submissiveness, and indecisiveness - but also his fundamental decency (he provides dental care for WPA workers at discount rates simply because they need it and most of his patients turn out to be family members in for free cleanings).  Katie McClellan plays her role with just the right mixture of youthful naivete and abandon while Jonathan Hadary is absolutely delightful as the quirky Mr. Prince.  But I thought that best of all was Marilyn Matarresse who managed to convey an extraordinary range of emotions – her resentment toward her father for his treatment of her mother, her ambivalent feelings toward her husband, her persistent despondency over the loss of her child, her rigidity, her stubbornness, and her underlying sense of insecurity.