|L-R: Heather E. Cunningham, Amanda Jones, and Sara Thigpen in AND MISS REARDON DRINKS A LITTLE. Photo by Connolly Photo NYC.|
Retro Productions’ has taken it upon itself to present revivals of “retro theatre” and to “tell good theatrical stories which have an historical perspective – with an emphasis on the 20th century – in order to broaden our own understanding of the world we live in.” To that end, it has had some very notable successes including its productions of Benefactors in 2010 and The Butter and Egg Man and Good Boys and Girls in 2015. Currently it is staging a revival of Paul Zindel’s And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little at the Gene Frankel Theatre on Bond Street in lower Manhattan.
I’d best get this off my chest at the outset: I don’t much like this play. No, it’s more than that: I think the work is dismayingly mean-spirited and, while it is referred to as a “black comedy,” I find little humor in it – of any coloration. Originally produced in 1967, it opened on Broadway in 1971 and is now being revived by Retro Productions in celebration of the 50th anniversary of its original opening. Had it been up to me, I would not have revived it but of course it was not up to me. So it should come as no surprise that I didn’t really enjoy this revival.
But it is equally important that I make it perfectly clear that my failure to enjoy this production was entirely a function of my negative predisposition to the work itself and should not in any way be interpreted as an indictment of this particular production. Indeed, given the limitations of the material they had to work with, I think that Retro Productions – an exceptionally good company as evidenced by their previous successes - did a truly first rate job in direction, set design and, most tellingly, in the entire cast’s performances in this production as well.
Catherine Reardon (Heather E. Cunningham), Ceil Reardon (Sara Thigpen), and Anna Reardon (Amanda Jones) are all well-educated sexually-repressed and relatively dysfunctional sisters, all employed in some capacity or other by the New York City public school system, and all still coping with the after-effects of their father’s abandonment, their sexually-repressive upbringing by their mother, and their mother’s recent death. Catherine, an assistant principal, is a spinster and the “Miss Reardon” of the play’s title. Anna, also unmarried, is a science teacher and an obsessive animal-loving vegetarian who is recovering from a nervous breakdown in the wake of an alleged sex scandal that may have involved her and a young male student at her school. And Ceil, a school superintendent, is married – but to the man who was once Catherine’s boyfriend.
Catherine and Anna are living together in their mother’s old home when Ceil comes around to meddle in the decision that Catherine and Anna will have to make as to whether or not Anna should be institutionalized. Also showing up uninvited are Mrs. Pentrano (Wynne Anders), an insensitive, self-centered neighbor; an unnamed high school student delivery boy (Sean J. Moran); Fleur Stein (Rebecca Holt), a school acting guidance counselor who hopes to enlist Ceil’s assistance in obtaining a permanent license; and Bob Stein (Christopher Borg), Fleur’s bombastic, misogynistic husband.
The play’s director, Shay Gines, has commented on the fact that “The play takes place as the Women’s Lib movement started to bloom here in the United States” and that “It focuses on four educated women who are dealing with issues that we can all relate to.” How ironic then that the actor who steals the show is Christopher Borg whose bravura performance is the most memorable feature of this production.