Sunday, July 31, 2011

Off Off Broadway: The Jazz Age

When we first encountered a description of The Jazz Age on TDF’s website, we immediately purchased tickets with very high expectations that this just had to be one terrific show.  Billed as a trilogy of one act plays by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker and Floyd Dell, with musical numbers by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, the production sounded like a sure winner.  And so it was with heightened expectations that we entered the Royal Theater at The Producers Club yesterday to attend one of only a half dozen performances of this small off off Broadway show presented by Love Creek Productions and The Dialectix Group and conceived and directed by Aaron Sparks.

Alas, we were to be sorely disappointed.  The Jazz Age was a time of gaiety, exuberance and excess, but you’d never know it from this production.  The theatre itself is small and dark, and the dreary sets and minimal costuming did nothing to offset that.  The plays themselves were slight; the songs were B-list selections at best; and the singing, acting and direction were very uneven.  The net result was a generally leaden production.

The first of the three one act plays, Porcelain and Pink by Fitzgerald, was less a play than a fleeting idea for one or, to be generous, little more than a scene from a play rather than a full act.  The entire play takes place with Julie (Kristin Carter) in a bathtub, first in conversation with her sister and then with her sister’s beau (he, discreetly placed on the other side of the bathroom door).  Ms Carter plays her part with a delightful impetuosity but the play itself is so trivial and the set so dull, that even her charming performance can’t save it.


Kristin Carter as Julie in Porcelain and Pink.  Photo by Steven Barrett.
In a Director’s Note in The Jazz Age program, Mr. Sparks remarks that, prior to his having embarked on this project, he had been unaware that Fitzgerald had written any plays.  We were similarly unaware but now we can understand why we did not know of his plays before this.  It’s not that Fitzgerald’s plays simply were forgotten gems; rather it’s that they are eminently forgettable. (This only assumes, of course, that Porcelain and Pink was at least as good as Fitzgerald’s other theatrical work.  But this is a fair assumption, I think, since Mr. Sparks did claim to have been even more enamored of this play than he was of any of Fitzgerald’s other plays.

The second of the three one act plays, Here We Are by Dorothy Parker, was the best of the bunch.  Parker’s sardonic wit shone through this dated take on a newly married couple’s anxieties in anticipation of their consummating their marriage later that night.  Karen Zondag as “She,” the new bride, was the standout in this one but, again, neither the play itself, nor the costumes, nor the set, were especially memorable.

The third play in the trilogy was Sweet-and-Twenty by Floyd Dell, one of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s many lovers (and a minor literary light in his own right.)  The play treads familiar ground (boy and girl meet and fall in love, believing that they are being independently impulsive in doing so, but without realizing that their respective aunt and uncle were desirous of their getting together in the first place), and exploits a variety of stage cliches without really breaking any new ground.

Before the plays begin, in between the plays themselves, and after the final one act play ends, we are inundated with a number of songs from the Jazz Age, performed by the actors themselves.  These include “Ain’t We Got Fun,” “All by Myself,” “The Sheik of Araby,” “Everybody Step,” and “Look for the Silver Lining” but the most enjoyable renditions are “Ballin’ the Jack” and “Stairway to Paradise,” both performed by Kristin Carter (who provided the small spark in Porcelain and Pink as well).

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