Thursday, November 17, 2016

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT Adapted for the Stage at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Molly Ringwald and Jeb Brown in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.  Photo by Carole Rosegg.
Larry McMurtry wrote Terms of Endearment  in 1975.  It was the tale of Aurora Greenway, a self-absorbed widow, and her various relationships – with several different suitors; with her housekeeper; with her daughter, Emma; with Emma’s husband, Flap….  The story was largely farcical with a soap opera-ish conclusion revolving around the dissolution of Emma’s marriage and Emma’s ultimate death from cancer.   The book garnered mixed reviews: people generally enjoyed it but recognized its literary shortcomings and the disconnect between its comical beginnings and its tragic culmination.

The book was adapted for the big screen by James L. Brooks (who wrote, directed and produced it) in 1983 and the film version was enormously successful.  Indeed, Terms of Endearment received eleven Academy Award nominations and won five: Brooks walked away with Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) while Shirley MacLaine won an award for Best Actress in the role of Aurora Greenway and Jack Nicholson won an award for Best Supporting Actor in the role of Garrett Breedlove, Aurora’s next door neighbor, a former astronaut, and her eventual lover.  (Garrett did not appear in the novel but was created for the film by Brooks who played fast and loose with many of the characters in McMurtry’s novel, eliminating several while adding Garrett.)

Now, in turn, McMurtry’s novel and Brooks’ screenplay have been adapted for the stage, this time by Dan Gordon, who hews closer to the film version than to the original book while paring down the cast of characters still further.  The play still revolves around the relationships between Aurora (Molly Ringwald) and her daughter, Emma (Hannah Dunne); between Aurora and her neighbor-astronaut-lover, Garrett (Jeb Brown); and between Emma and her husband, Flap (Denver Milord).  Emma’s best friend, Patsy Clark (Jessica Digiovanni) is retained in the play as well but most of the other characters who populated the film version are dispensed with: Janice, with whom Flap has the affair that leads to the dissolution of his marriage is mentioned in the play but never actually appears there as she did in the film; Sam Burns, Emma’s love interest outside of her marriage who was played in the film by John Lithgow, also is mentioned in the play but we never actually get to meet him either; neither does Vernon Dahlart, another of Aurora’s suitors who was played in the motion picture by Danny DeVito, ever appear in the stage version; and we don’t even get to see any of Emma’s three children, Tommy, Teddy and Melanie, all of whom appeared in the movie as well.

The net result is that Terms of Endearment, currently premiering at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan, is but a pale imitation of the motion picture.  The characters on stage are drawn rather shallowly and it is difficult to take their relationships and personae seriously enough to really care about any of them.  To be sure, Hannah Dunne is engaging as Emma (the role played by Debra Winger in the film) and both Denver Milord as Flap and Jessica Digiovanni as Patsy are more than adequate in their relatively unchallenging roles.  But Molly Ringwald, despite her well-established competence as an actress, suffers badly in comparison to Shirley MacLaine in the role of Aurora.  In part that is because Aurora’s role in the play is not nearly as well-written or meaty as was Aurora’s role in the movie.  But in part, too, it is because Shirley MacLaine’s stellar performance in the film was just too tough an act to follow.

Surprisingly (at least to me), the actor who comes across best in Terms of Endearment is Jeb Brown as Garrett Breedlove.  I should have thought that effectively reprising an Oscar-winning performance by the inimitable Jack Nicholson would have been well nigh impossible, especially given the play’s additional constraints.  But Jeb Brown has pulled if off: he has succeeded in channeling Jack Nicholson in his performance as effectively and effortlessly as Tina Fey channeled Sarah Palin.  It is his performance that is the high point of the play.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Terrific Revival of THE CLEARING at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Jakob von Eikel and Quinn Cassavale in THE CLEARING.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is set in the late seventeenth century at the time of the Salem witch trials but clearly is intended to be a metaphorical indictment of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist “witch-hunts” of the last century.  In similar fashion, Helen Edmundson’s The Clearing is set in Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century when Oliver Cromwell sought to force the Irish Catholics out of Ireland, but is meant as an indictment of the Bosnian “ethnic cleansing” of the late twentieth century (and, before that, of the Nazi Holocaust of the 1940s).

The Clearing, a very powerful and beautifully written work, was first staged to rave reviews in 1993 at London’s Bush Theatre and has enjoyed frequent revivals since then.  It is currently being revived again, this time by Theater 808 at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan and, I must say, this outstanding production really is one not to be missed.

The play revolves around Robert Preston (Jakob von Eichel), the Protestant son of an English landowner who has re-settled in Ireland and his Irish Catholic wife Madeleine (Quinn Cassavale).  The couple are very much in love, she has just borne him a son, he has begun to develop his small farm, and their future appears extraordinarily bright.  Until, that is, word arrives that Cromwell’s government is about to confiscate the lands of the Irish Catholics in order to redistribute them to the soldiers of Cromwell’s army in lieu of their unpaid wages and to transplant the original Irish landowners to the much less hospitable province of Connaught.
The Prestons’ Irish Catholic neighbors, Solomon Winter (David Licht) and his wife Susaneh (Tessa Zugmeyer) are at immediate risk and they are forced to register for “transplantation.”  The Prestons, themselves, would appear to be at somewhat less risk, given Robert’s own aristocratic English background, notwithstanding his marriage to an Irish Catholic woman.  But Madeleine is not just any Irish Catholic woman: although her closest friend, Killaine Farrell (Lauren Currie Lewis) is a companion and servant in Madeleine’s home and godmother to her son, Killaine remains in close contact with their childhood friend, Pierce Kinsellagh (Hamish Allan-Hedley), a Tory Irish guerilla,.  And Madeleine, herself, still retains some contact and an affection for Pierce.

When Killaine is arbitrarily seized by English soldiers in the street and scheduled for transportation to Barbados where she would be an indentured servant, Madeleine pulls out all the stops in attempting to obtain her release, including a risky appeal to the English Governor, Sir Charles Sturman (Neal Mayer) and an attempt to purchase her release from the sailor guarding her (Ron Sims).  Robert, on the other hand, is as reluctant to stick his neck out for Killaine as he was for his friends Solomon and Susaneh, fearful that to do so would jeopardize his own position as a landowner in Ireland.  And when push comes to shove, Robert chooses to betray his own wife and friends, prompting Madeleine to take her young son and abandon Robert with the direst consequences for all involved.

The actors’ performances are superb across the board.  I was especially impressed by Quinn Cassavale who is vibrant, courageous and passionate as Madeleine and by Neal Mayer who is as coldly Mephistophelian as Sir Charles Sturman as one can possibly imagine.  But I also thought that Lauren Currie Lewis is delightful as the innocent Killaine and that Hamish Allan-Headly, as Pierce Kinsellagh, comes across as tough and single-minded in his belief in his cause.  Which is not to suggest that David Licht, Ron Sims, Jakob von Eichel and Tessa Zugmeyer don’t also play their parts with consummate skill for they certainly do.

I was a bit put off at first by the abstract simplicity of the set and the fact that all of the characters were portrayed anachronistically in modern dress.  But on further thought, I believe that those treatments were intended to emphasize the apparent inevitability and universality of the horrors of ethnic cleansing across the ages, whether in Ireland in the 1650s or Germany in the 1940s or Bosnia or Rwanda in the 1990s, and I think they succeeded in doing just that.  Indeed, the play’s set and costuming may also have been intended to remind us of the milder but still disheartening forms of xenophobia that exist today even in our own country - as evidenced, for example, by the rantings against Mexicans and Muslims by a candidate for the highest office in our land.

Friday, October 7, 2016

DADDY ISSUES at Theatre at St. Clements

L-R: Shua Potter, Alex Ammerman, and Matt Koplik in DADDY ISSUES.  Photo by Stephen M. Cyr.
Daddy Issues by Marshall Goldberg, currently enjoying its Off-Broadway premiere at Theatre at St. Clements on West 46th Street in Manhattan’s theatre district, is a preposterous slapstick farce that demands a greater suspension of disbelief on the part of its audience than should be asked of even the most passionate theatergoer.  While the playwright is clearly well intentioned, he does succeed in demeaning the gay community, disparaging the Jewish community, insulting the aged, and tossing in a bit of fat-shaming to boot.  Quite an accomplishment for what had likely been intended to be a politically correct entertainment in the spirit of the television classic, All in the Family. 

Donald Moscowitz (Matt Koplik) is a gay, aspiring actor.  His parents, Sid (Tony Rossi) and Marion (Kate Katcher) would like nothing better than for him to abandon his lifestyle and give them a grandchild.  His grandmother (Deb Armelino), portrayed as a cardboard caricature of Molly Goldberg, shares their desire that another Moscowitz child be born so that she might become a great-grandmother.

At his wit’s end in light of his parents’ pressure that he father a child, Donald hatches a hare-brained scheme to convince them that he already has.  As it turns out, Donald’s near-sighted alcoholic neighbor, Mary Ellen McGuire (Allyson Haley) has a ten-year old boy, Johnny Walker (Alex Ammerman), and Donald hires Johnny to play the role of his own son.  And in order to pull the whole thing off, Donald enlists the aid of two of his friends - Levi Krauss, a drag queen (Shua Potter), and Henrietta Hudson, an overweight casting director (Elizabeth Klein).

Of course the scheme collapses but fear not: as the most far-fetched coincidences pile up, all turns out for the best for everyone on stage (although not so much for members of the audience).  But just to end on a more positive note: Shua Potter turns in a bravura performance as the drag queen and Alex Ammerman, as the young Johnny Walker, appears destined to have a very successful acting career ahead of him.

Friday, September 16, 2016

THE BIRDS by Conor McPherson at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Mia Hutchinson-Shaw, Tony Naumovski, and Antoinette LaVecchia in THE BIRDS.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Daphne du Maurier’s disturbing novelette The Birds was first published in her collection The Apple Tree in 1952.  It was the story of a farmhand, his family, and his community who were attacked by flocks of birds shortly after the end of World War II and it was generally interpreted to have been a metaphor for Britain’s survival of the London Blitz during the war.  Alfred Hitchcock adapted the story for the cinema a decade later, producing the classic film of the same name in 1963.

In 2009, Conor McPherson adapted the story for the stage and his play, also called The Birds, was produced at the Gate Theatre in Dublin.  It is that play that is now receiving its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  Unfortunately, however, McPherson’s adaptation not only has considerably less impact than the Hitchcock film (for which Hitchcock required his screenwriter, Evan Hunter, to develop new characters and expand du Maurier’s plot) but it even has less impact than the original du Maurier story.

In McPherson’s play, there are only four characters (played by just three actors): Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia), Nat (Tony Naumovski, Julia (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw), and Tierney (also played by Tony Naumovski).  They are among the last survivors in a world in which flocks of predatory birds have killed virtually everyone else.  The play devolves into a cramped apocalyptic vision of some future dystopia in which Diane, Nat and Julia form a dysfunctional threesome struggling to survive.

The three actors play their parts for all they’re worth but, through no fault of their own, they’re not worth much.  The cardboard characters have all been drawn two-dimensionally and it’s not clear that the actors themselves really know what makes them tick.  Certainly the audience is never privy to their genuine selves and motivations.

It is possible, of course, to read deeper meanings into the play should you choose to do so, especially since the play is littered with Biblical references, but the results will still be rather trite and sophomoric at best.  A case could be made, for instance, that at the play’s end, Nat and Diane are metaphors for Adam and Eve about to embark (or attempt to embark) on the creation of a brave new world, with Julia’s spirit representing Lilith or the serpent in the garden or some such malevolent force preventing them from achieving their goal.  Or, in more mundane fashion, Diane’s antagonism toward Julia could be interpreted as a reprise of Diane’s similarly antagonistic relationship from her own estranged daughter in the years preceding the avian apocalypse.  But attempting to impose any such deeper meaning on what is essentially a disappointingly shallow play really would be more trouble than it’s worth.

THE VANITY at Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre

L-R: Patch David and Rosalie Burke in THE VANITY.  Photo by Nestor Correa Photography.
The title of The Vanity by Peter Covino, currently premiering at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan, derives as much from the antique table inherited by Julian Gray (Patch David) from his mythical ancestor Dorian Gray as from the self-destructive urges that wrought havoc with both their lives.  It is a highly stylized musical farce, inspired both by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and by the classic film Sunset Boulevard (with allusions to everything from A Streetcar Named Desire to Death of a Salesman and from JFK’s one liners to Shelley’s Ozymandias), in which events transpire over the course of nearly two decades (from 1947 to 1966).
Claudia Wheelan (Ilene Christen) is the fading studio star who still sees herself as an ingĂ©nue (think Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard).  Her husband, Hilton Wheeler (Erik Ransom), is an acclaimed director (largely due to his wife’s stardom) and it is he who discovers Julian, a charismatically handsome but rather innocent youth who has chosen to create a new life for himself in Hollywood.  Cast as the star in Hilton’s latest motion picture, Julian has stardom thrust upon him but still appears ready to risk it all when he falls in love with Stella Vaughn (Rosalie Burke).  Stella, the makeup girl on the film’s set, also sings at a sleazy club but aspires someday to achieve the acclaim Claudia has known.
When Julian inherits the Victorian vanity table once owned by Dorian Gray, matters quickly get out of hand.  As it turns out – time for your suspension of disbelief – Dorian Gray’s demonic Spirit (Brandon Haagenson) resides in the table and the Spirit has a proposition for Julian: it will grant Julian immortality, eternal youth, and a life of sexual and sensual abandon in exchange for Julian’s forsaking Stella and any real chance of true love.  It’s just the sort of offer that Norma Desmond or Dorian Gray of Claudia Wheelan would jump at.  So how could Julian refuse?
Of course, the Spirit ends up stealing Julian’s soul (and, indeed, comes close to stealing the whole show.)  Meanwhile, Julian’s friend Baxter Hughes (Roger Yeh) Is confronting his own demons.  He is gay at a time (1947) when homosexuality still was considered to be a mental illness or a vice or both and, in an attempt to conform to society’s norms, he not only marries but fathers a daughter (Kate Hoover).   (Minor spoiler alert: It doesn’t really work out well for him.)
One last aside: it is Declan (Remy Germinario), Claudia’s Irish cabana boy who, like everyone else, seems prepared to do whatever it takes to get a chance at Hollywood stardom himself, who sings the musical’s perkiest tune, “Aye, begorrah!”   In doing so, he provides further comic relief (not that the show really needed any).

Monday, August 1, 2016

Tenth Anniversary Season of SUMMER SHORTS at 59E59 Theaters

Elizabeth Masucci and Frank Harts in AFTER THE WEDDING.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Summer Shorts, New York City’s annual festival of new American short plays, is currently in its tenth season at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  This year’s program consists of six plays – three in Series A  and three more in Series B.  We just saw the three in Series A at yesterday’s opening: The Helpers by Cusi Cram, After the Wedding by Neil LaBute, and This Is How It Ends by A. Rey Pamatmat.  (The three in Series B – The Dark Clothes of Night by Richard Alfredo, Queen by Alexander Dinelaris, and Black Flag by Idris Goodwin - will have their official opening on August 7.

The Helpers is a mildly amusing two hander in which Nate (David Deblinger) and Jane (Maggie Burke), Nate’s one time therapist, find their roles reversed, with Nate attempting to be of assistance to her rather than the other way around.  Both Deblinger and Burke perform with comedic sensibility, but the play itself remains little more than a one joke production.

After the Wedding was, in my opinion, far and away the best play on the program.  It was another two hander, this one featuring Frank Harts and Elizabeth Masucci as an unnamed but happily married couple celebrating their sixth anniversary.  In the course of the play, we learn of the single event on their honeymoon night that left such an indelible imprint on their lives that persist in their rationalizations and denials (both to themselves and to one other) of what actually occurred and what it all meant.  Both Harts and Masucci deliver superb performances.

This Is How It Ends was the most ambitious and complex play on the program – and the most preposterous and pretentious to boot.  Jake (Chinaza Uche) is rushing off to spend the day in sexual abandon, now that his roommate Annie (Kerry Warren) has revealed to him that she is really the Anti-Christ and that, with the assistance of her underlings, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, she is about to destroy the world.  Warren is the cutest Anti-Christ you’re ever going to meet and her four underlings – Death (Nadine Malouf), Pestilence (Satyhya Sridharan), Famine (Rosa Gilmore) and War (Patrick Cummings) are similarly off-putting (each in his or her own way).  (Who would ever have imagined, for instance, that War and Pesilence really were closeted gay lovers, that  Famine got her rocks off by surreptitiously spying on their lovemaking, or that Death really fancied herself as humanity’s champion?)  The play is an off-the-wall, phantasmagorical extravaganza that might have been written by Adam Rapp on steroids but despite the clever conceit and the outstanding performances of the entire cast, it really was not my cup of tea.

Monday, June 20, 2016

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES by Israel Horowitz Premieres at Cherry Lane Theatre

Israel Horowitz, a very prolific writer with more than 70 plays to his credit, has the distinction of being the most produced American playwright in French theater history.  Appropriately enough, his latest play, Out of the Mouths of Babes, currently premiering at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, is set in a Paris loft where four women meet to pay their last respects to the recently deceased centenarian professor whom they all loved at some time in their respective lives, and who, in turn, loved all of them at some time in his own.

Estelle Parsons is perfectly cast as Evelyn, the 88 year old grand dame of the group and one of the deceased professor’s oldest and earliest wives who shared his bed back in the Big Band era of the1940’s.  Judith Ivey is equally well cast as Evvie, twenty years Evelyn’s junior, and the only one of the four who never married him (by her choice, not his, as she remained his lover in the hipper 1960’s when their music centered on the Beatles and their ilk rather than Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald).  Janice (Angelina Fiorellisi), the craziest and most self-destructive of the lot, was younger still and arrived on the scene later, but she did succeed in teaching him to play Chopin’s Etudes (which does come in surprisingly handy as the play approaches its close).  Finally, Marie-Belle (Francesca Choy-Kee), young enough to be his granddaughter and the last of his many wives, turns out to have been the prime motivator in bringing the four women together for his funeral.  And it is she who really animates the entire production with her unbridled enthusiasm.

This is not a deep or thought-provoking play and you’re unlikely to spend much time pondering its nuances.  But it is nonetheless very entertaining, due to the exceptional performances of all four of these very talented actresses as they reminisce on the lives they led.

Friday, June 10, 2016

HERO'S WELCOME by Alan Ayckbourn in Repertory witH CONFUSIONS at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Evelyn Hoskins and Richard Stacey in HERO'S WELCOME.  Photo by Tony Bartholomew.
Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions was first produced in Scarborough in 1974 and had its London premiere in 1976 but we still had to wait another 40 years before it finally came to NY.  On the other hand, Hero’s Welcome, Ayckbourn’s newest play (his 79th in case you’re counting) premiered in Scarborough just last year and, fortunately, we haven’t had to wait nearly as long for this one to open here.  The two plays – Confusions and Hero’s Welcome - are currently playing in repertory at 59E59 Theatres on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  We reviewed Confusions (which we very much enjoyed) in our last post.  Now here’s our bottom line on Hero’s Welcome: we loved it and it’s clearly another Ayckbourn hit.

The hero of Hero’s Welcome is Murray (Richard Stacey) a decorated soldier returning after 17 years to his old home town of Hadforth with Baba (Evelyn Hoskins), his foreign-born bride.  When Murray left Hadford, nearly a generation ago, it was under something of a cloud: for some unknown reason, he abandoned his pregnant fiancĂ©, Alice (Elizabeth Boag) on the church steps the day they were to be wed.  Alice is now the town’s mayor and married to Derek (Russell Dixon), a builder, and it should come as no surprise that she’s not particularly pleased with the fact that Murray has returned.

Somewhat more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Brad (Stephen Billington), who is now married to Kara (Charlotte Harwood), isn’t especially glad that Murray has returned either.  Indeed, if it were up to Alice and Brad (and probably Derek as well), the town would give Murray a welcoming parade and then an even more enthusiastic literal sendoff to anywhere else.

But Murray and Baba have other ideas.  They plan to remain in Hadforth and refurbish The Bird of Prey, the hotel/pub once owned by Murray’s family.  Alice, in her capacity of mayor, considers The Bird of Prey to be an anachronistic eyesore that should be totally demolished and replaced by whatever the British equivalent might be of “urban development.”

The play is rife with plots and sub-plots.  Is Murray really the hero he’s been made out to be?  Why did he really leave Alice on the church steps?  How long will Kara put up with Brad’s disparaging treatment and, if she ever does feel she’s had enough. What will she do about it?  What, if anything, does Brad’s obsession with guns portend?  Or his obsessive competitiveness with other men and his cavalier attitude toward the truth?

The cast of Hero’s Welcome consists of the same three men and two women who comprised the ensemble cast of Confusions, with the addition of Evelyn Hoskins who truly steals the show as Baba.  To be sure, Richard Stacey, who played some of the lesser roles in Confusions truly comes into his own here in the starring role of Murray.  Nor is this to to say that the other members of the cast aren’t just as good here as they were in Confusions for they truly are.  It is just that Evelyn Hoskins is so refreshingly delightful as Baba that one tends to forget just how talented the other members of this cast really are.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

CONFUSIONS by Alan Ayckbourn Opens in NY After 40 Years

L-R: Elizabeth Boag, Stephen Billington and Russell Dixon in CONFUSIONS.  Photo by Tony Bartholomew.
Alan Ayckbourn is an enormously talented and prolific playwright with 79 plays to his credit who frequently focuses in his work upon the seemingly eternal “battle between the sexes” - that apparently unending conflict between misogynistic, philandering and domineering males on one side and their often submissive and mistreated female partners (who, nonetheless, often are the ones to have the last laugh) on the other.  It was in1974 that he wrote Confusions, a series of five separate one act plays interconnected in having a character in each of the first three appear in the next play on the program.  Their interconnectedness was further enhanced by the fact that all five related, in one way or another, to that “battle between the sexes” and to the fact that they were performed by an ensemble cast of just three men and two women playing 20 different challenging roles.

Confusions was first produced at the Library Theatre in Scarborough in 1974 and had its London premiere in 1976 at the Apollo Theatre.  Now, forty years later, it is finally receiving its long overdue New York premiere as part of this year’s Brits Off Broadway program at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  It’s been a long time to wait but I must say that this outstanding production by the Stephen Joseph Theatre of Scarborough was well worth waiting for.

In Mother Figure, the first of the five plays on the program, Lucy (Elizabeth Boag) is the first of Ayckbourn’s mistreated women to appear.  Her husband, Harry, a traveling salesman, is on the road , as he usually is, having little interest in his family, and she is left to tend to their home and three children herself.  Nor is she doing a very good job of it as both she and her home become increasingly disheveled to the point that she doesn’t bother to change out of her nightclothes during the day nor even answer the phone when it rings.

Lucy’s neighbor, Rosemary (Charlotte Harwood), is herself mistreated by her male chauvinistic husband Terry (Stephen Billington), and when they check in on her to see how she is doing, she is rather non-plussed.  Lacking adult companionship, her knowledge of how to deal with adults in an adult manner has atrophied and she treats them the only way she knows how: as if they, too, were children.

And yet it works and it is Lucy and Rosemary, not Terry, who prevail.  Terry not only drinks his milk (albeit reluctantly) as a well-behaved child should but also apologizes to Rosemary for his earlier disparaging behavior toward her.  Score one for the ladies.

In Drinking Companion, Harry (Richard Stacey), Lucy’s philandering traveling salesman husband (who we heard about but never actually got to meet in Mother Figure) is attempting heavy-handedly to seduce Paula (Charlotte Harwood) and/or Bernice (Elizabeth Boag), either or both of the two younger women he has encountered in his hotel’s bar.  He doesn’t get very far and the only beneficiary of his behavior would appear to be the waiter (Stephen Billington) who serves round after round of drinks to the three of them and who Harry tips somewhat more extravagantly as he becomes increasingly intoxicated.  Score two for the ladies.

The same waiter whom we met in Drinking Companions is there again in Between Mouthfuls but this time he is working in the hotel’s restaurant rather than in its bar and is serving dinner to two couples seated at two different tables.  Mr. and Mrs. Pearce (Russell Dixon and Elizabeth Boag) are seated at one table, blissfully unaware of Polly (Charlotte Harwood) and Martin (Richard Stacey) seated at the other.  Polly and Martin saw the Pearces as soon as they entered the restaurant, however, and, if it were up to Polly, she would have left on the spot.  But Martin, who is employed by Mr. Pearce, refuses to leave, fearful that it would damage his career if Mr. Pearce were to have seen him and might then have suspected that he chose to leave the restaurant in order to to avoid his boss.
As the waiter serves first one table and then the other, we become privy to their respective conversations.  Mrs. Pearce, it seems, suspects that her husband has been having an affair but does not know with whom.  Martin is focused solely on his career at the expense of his marriage which causes Polly considerable distress.  We learn, too, that the relationship between these two couples goes well beyond Martin’s employment by Mr. Pearce.

Before the end of their meal, Polly has gotten sick to her stomach, not with the food but with Martin, and storms off.  Mrs. Pearce has had it with Mr. Pearce as well and walks out – but not before upending a plate of food in his lap.  The men, insensitive to the women’s feelings and seemingly unconcerned over their withdrawal from the scene, meet and repair to the bar for a brandy.  Score it a tie (although maybe the women did win on points…Mrs. Pearce did get to upend that plate of food in Mr. Pearce’s lap and Polly did manage to stick it to Martin in a way that I really can’t get into without disclosing one of the play’s biggest surprises….)

Mrs. Pearce shows up again in Gosforth’s Fete, this time as the town councilor scheduled to deliver a speech launching the building of a new village hall.  Gosforth (Russell Dixon), megaphone in hand, is overseeing the afternoon festival which is being held on his land and is supervising the organization of the accompanying tea in the tea tent by Milly (Charlotte Harwood).  The vicar Richard Stacey) is also in attendance but apparently even his divine connections can’t prevent everything that could possibly go wrong from going wrong.
The sound system isn’t working and Gosforth is having his hands full trying to fix it.  When he finally does, the consequences of its working turn out to be worse than its not functioning at all as announcements relating to matters that might better have remained concealed are inadvertently revealed to all and sundry.  And then, when the sound system is functioning, it is the tap on the tea urn that jams which ends up scalding the vicar, flooding the amplifiers, and literally shocking (and potentially electrocuting) more than one participant at the fete.
Meanwhile, a troop of cub scouts at the fair have become virtually unmanageable, even by their scoutmaster Stewart (Stephen Billington) who is (or at least had been) engaged to marry Milly before all hell broke loose.  As Stewart seeks solace in drink, thunderstorms roll in, hastily built platforms and stages collapse, and the fair devolves into utter chaos.  It all makes for a very funny slapstick scene that marks the comedic high point of the show.  Everybody loses in this one (except the audience which wins big).

It all might have ended there on that exuberant note – but it doesn’t.  There is still one play to go, A Talk in the Park, which differs significantly from the other four.  For starters, none of the five characters in this play – Arthur (Russell Dixon), Beryl (Elizabeth Boag), Charles (Richard Stacey), Doreen (Charlotte Harwood) and Ernest (Stephen billington) – appeared or were even alluded to in any of the other four plays and, perhaps even more telling, none of them seems to have any real connection to any of the others in this play either.  They are just five strangers seated on park benches, each attempting to avoid unwanted contact with one of the others while seeing nothing wrong in attempting to regale a third with his or her own tale of woe.  It is a sad commentary of the degree to which individuals are taken with the importance of their own lives and assume that everyone else should be interested in them as well while taking little or no interest in the lives of others.

Because A Talk in the Park is so different from the other four plays, some critics over the years have contended that it should not have been included in the Confusions program, that the other four plays would have sufficed and that, had it been omitted, it would have led to audiences leaving the theater in an even more cheerful mood.  I don’t agree.  I’m not only delighted that Ayckbourn saw fit to include A Talk in the Park in the program but I actually consider it the best of the five plays, the one that is the most thought-provoking, and the one that leads us to reassess the other four in a different light.

The five person ensemble cast of Confusions is absolutely brilliant with each of the five cast members called upon to play anywhere from three to five diametrically different roles.  Elizabeth Boag’s transition from Lucy, a virtually abandoned wife in Mother Figure to Bernice, a tough younger woman whom her philandering husband is seeking unsuccesfully to bed in Drinking Companions, is truly remarkable.  Her further transitions into the haughty Mrs. Pearce in Between Mouthfuls and Gosforth’s Fete and finally into Beryl, a battered woman, in A Talk in the Park are equally delicious.

Charlotte Harwood has proven herself to be similarly versatile.  As Rosemary in Mother Figure and again as Polly in Between Mouthfuls, she effectively plays the role of the unappreciated wife; as Paula in Drinking Companion she succeeds in fending off the unwanted advances of someone else’s philandering husband; as Milly in Gosforth’s Fete, she’s affianced to a Dudley Do-Right-type character but even he doesn’t know all there is to know about her (at least not right away).  And by the time she evolves into Doreen, a seemingly mildly paranoid older woman in A Talk in the Sun, she’s virtually come full circle.

Stephen Billington, too, appears in all five plays: as the ubiquitous waiter in Drinking Companion and Between Mouthfuls; as the demeaning husband, Terry, in Mother Figure; as the Dudley Do-Right-type cub scout leader in Gosforth’s Fete; and, ultimately, as the unhappily married Ernest in A Talk in the Park.  He is effective across the board.

Richard Stacey appears in four of the five plays but the range of characters he portrays is as broad as that of any of the other cast members.  He is Harry, the sleazy philandering traveling salesman in Drinking Companion and Martin, the self-centered husband, in Between Mouthfuls, only to emerge as the vicar in Gosforth’s Fete. By the time we get to A Talk in the Park, he has morphed into Charles, a self-proclaimed victim of misfortunes not of his own making.

Finally, Russell Dixon appears in just three of the five plays but his roles are the juiciest of all and he plays them for all they are worth.  As the pompous Mr. Pearce, he dominates the scene in Between Mouthfuls, only to do himself even one better in his antic portrayal of the buffoonish Gosforth in Gosforth’s Fete.  And I daresay that of the five bench sitters in A Talk in the Park, it is the lecherous Arthur, played by Dixon, who is likely to remain with you the longest.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

ROSS & RACHEL at 59E59 Theaters

Molly Vevers in ROSS & RACHEL.  Photo by Alex Brenner.
Sometimes, unfortunately, the whole actually may be worth less than its parts.  And that is the case, I fear, with Ross & Rachel, currently enjoying its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan, a year after its critically acclaimed production at the Edinburgh Fringe.  To be sure, the play by James Fritz is exceptionally well written – a terrific monologue or, rather, a finely executed dialogue between a long married husband and wife, with a single actor speaking for them both. Moreover, both the play’s direction and its staging are first rate.  And, perhaps most important, Molly Vevers’ bravura performance in this one woman tour de force really is something to write home about.

And yet, notwithstanding all that, the play left me dissatisfied and I would be loath to recommend it.

The play’s title is, of course, a direct allusion to Ross Geller and Rachel Green, the two prominent characters in Friends, the long-running television sitcom, (endearingly played by David Schwimmer and Jeniffer Ansiton).  In the TV sitcom, Ross (the nerd) and Rachel (the high school prom queen) were the on again off again friends clearly destined to become a loving couple.  But then what?

In Fritz’s play, TV’s Ross and Rachel are never mentioned but the play’s title, scattered allusions to incidents in the sitcom, and the personae played by Molly Vevers (she is a beautiful woman and her husband a nerdy college professor) are enough to make Fritz’s intention clear: it is to question whether story book endings really are likely in real life or whether flirtations, boredom, illness and death are more likely to take their toll on any romantic relationship.

Without disclosing too much about the play’s plot and denouement, suffice it to say that it all was a bit too much of a downer for my taste and even a bit macabre.  Yes, it was all done very well – but to what end?. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

CITY STORIES: Tales of Love and Magic in London by James Phillips

L-R: Phoebe Sparrow and Matthew Flynn in PEARL.  Photo by James Phillips.
City Stories: Tales of Love and Magic in London is currently enjoying its US premiere as part of this year’s Brits Off Broadway program at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  This is not a single play but rather a half dozen wonderfully phantasmagorical one act plays, each of which has been written and directed by James Phillips and all of which, in the most unexpected ways, seek to explore the deepest interrelated issues of faith, love, change, connection and self-identity.  In lesser hands, these explorations might have come across as platitudinous or absurd or both but as written and directed by Phillips and as performed by this truly enthralling and accomplished cast, they are consistently entertaining and thought-provoking.

The six plays are Narcissi,The Great Secret, Lullaby, Occupy, Pearl and Carousel, but they are played in repertoire with a selection of just four at each performance.  In the opening performance that we attended, the four plays presented were Occupy, Lullaby, Narcissi, and Pearl.

Daphne Alexander in OCCUPY.  Photo by James Phillips

In Occupy, Mark (Matthew Flynn) is a member of a secret society working beneath St. Paul’s Cathedral to preserve all the letters written to God throughout history.  Ruth (Daphne Alexander) has written and posted just such a letter and now wants it back.  Her mesmerizing interaction with Mark makes for a terrific two hander.

In Lullaby, everyone in the world is rapidly falling asleep and Audrey (again played beautifully by Daphne Alexander) appears to be one of the last holdouts, if not the last.  Her closest friend, Rachel (Phoebe Sparrow) is sinking fast but there might yet be time for her to restore her relationship to Joe (Tom Gordon).

In Narcissi, Jack (Tom Gordon), an impoverished artist, informs Natalie (Sarah Quintrell), an equally impoverished pianist who he never met before, that she is truly the love of his life.  And it is up to the two of them, separately and together, to sort it all out.
Finally, in Pearl, David (Matthew Flynn) encounters a woman whom he takes to be the incarnation of his lost true love, Marguerite.  But is Pearl (Phoebe Sparrow) really who he thinks she is?

The four plays are all exquisitely written and performed with an almost other-worldly sense of style.  And the entire production is enhanced by the accompanying original music composed and performed live on the piano throughout the show by Rosabella Gregory.

Monday, May 2, 2016

TOAST by Richard Bean in Revival at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Steve Nicolson, Simon Greenall, Will Barton, Matthew Kelly, and Matt Sutton in TOAST.  Photo by Oliver King.

It seems to me that there really is much less to Richard Bean’s Toast than first meets the eye.

At first blush, the play, set in a drab, sterile bakery factory in Hull, appears to be something of an existential metaphor for the transience and meaninglessness of human life, inevitably resulting in death and despair (somewhat along the lines, perhaps, of Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit).  Most of the play’s truly outstanding ensemble cast of seven, led by the cadaverous Mathew Kelly as Nellie, are predominately attired in white bakery aprons, (intended, it would seem, to underscore the colorlessness of their lives).  Nellie survives on cheese sandwiches and the short rations of cigarettes allowed him by his wife; others subsist on fish paste sandwiches. Several are sexually frustrated in their very limited lives outside the bakery, devolving into a motley crew of puerile pranksters at work: Cecil (Simon Greenall) has taken to sneaking up behind Peter (Matt Sutton) and grabbing his testicles while Blakey (Steve Nicolson) seems content simply fondling his own.  Colin (Will Barton)  is the group’s singularly ineffectual shop steward while Dezzie (Kieran Knowles) may be the most dysfunctional of all: he arrives late for his shift, can’t recall his new address or phone number, and struggles even to remove his motorcycle helmet.  Indeed, life in the factory may well have been just what Thomas Hobbes had in mind when he coined the phrase “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

When Lance (John Wark), an alleged student of social and economic history, arrives on the scene, our initial expectations appear on the verge of realization.  He is a Mephistophelian character in a bright red shirt that contrasts sharply with the others’ drab whites, a self-described agnostic who ultimately describes himself to Nellie as “having raged unsuccessfully against the dying of the light several years ago,” as one for whom “being dead has made a significant difference in my life,” and as one from “The other side.  From across the metaphorical water….The land of living souls and rotting bodies.  The next world.”

Spoiler Alert!

And yet it is all for naught.  The red shirt is nothing more than a red herring.  When the oven breaks down and several of the men risk life and limb to put it right, some tragedy seems inevitable.  But it’s not.  No one dies; the oven is fixed; the men survive with nary a burn; Lance turns out to be mentally disturbed rather than sinister; and the men return to their cheese and fish paste sandwiches, their cigarettes, their sexual frustrations, and their twelve to sixteen hour days in the factory.  And that’s it.

Toast, Richard Bean’s first play, premiered at the Royal Court in 1999 and recently enjoyed a very successful revival in London and on tour throughout the UK.  And it is only now, after a delay of seventeen years, that it is belatedly being given its US premiere at  59E59 Theaters on East 59thStreet in midtown Manhattan (with its highly acclaimed British cast intact) as part of that theater’s highly regarded Brits Off Broadway program.
For the past several years, we have very much enjoyed the Brits Off Broadway programs staged annually at 59E59 Theaters.  This year, however, we have been mildly disappointed by the first two plays in the 2016 program.  For starters, we found Echoes, the initial play in this year’s program, to be rather wanting, despite outstanding performance by its co-stars, Filipa Braganca and Felicity Houlbrooke..  And now, having attended a performance of Toast, the second show in this year’s Brits Off Broadway program, we find that we’re experiencing a similar reaction: Toast’s seven man ensemble cast is truly outstanding, but as for the play itself, not so much.

Monday, April 25, 2016

ECHOES by Henry Naylor at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Filipa Braganca and Felicity Houlbrooke in ECHOES.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Both Felicity Houlbrooke and Filipa Braganca are exceptionally talented actresses and both deliver truly spectacular performances in Echoes, currently enjoying its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan as part of this year’s Brits Off Broadway Festival.  But, sad to say, their talents are largely squandered on this play which, despite its success at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is little more than a superficial diatribe seeking to establish the moral equivalence between the excesses of British colonialism and the horrors of Islamic terrorism and proclaiming the eternal victimhood of women and ethnic minorities at the hands of men and Western Europeans.

Tillie (Felicity Houlbrooke) is a 17 year old Victorian pioneer woman from Ipswich who accepts the British Government’s offer of free passage to India in the mid-nineteenth century so that she might marry a soldier and fulfill her responsibility to provide him with offspring to help populate the British Empire.  Samira (Felipa Braganca) is a 17 year old Muslim woman from Ipswich who travels to the Middle East today so that she might marry an Islamist terrorist and contribute to the establishment of a Caliphate   In dueling monologues, Tillie and Samira expound on their ordeals and ultimate disillusionments but without ever really acknowledging any responsibility for their own actions.

To be sure, men must bear much of the responsibility for the exploitation and subjugation of women over the ages and European society must accept responsibility for much of the exploitation of indigenous peoples around the world.  But it is long past time, I think, for us simply to be satisfied with two dimensional attacks on all men and all of Western culture and to examine in greater depth the degree to which women and ethnic minorities may have been complicit in their own victimization.  And Henry Naylor, in penning Echoes, has failed to even approach those questions and has taken the easy way out  – with a couple of gratuitous swipes at Donald Trump and Ted Cruz thrown in for good measure, as if to underscore the fact that the play really is nothing more than an extreme feminist and far left polemic.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES at The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company

L-R: Kevin Sebastian and Philip O'Gorman in ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES.  Poster Design by Kevin Sebastian.  Poster Photography by Max Kilsheimer.
Arsene Lupin vs Sherlock Holmes, currently being staged by The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company at The Gene Frankel Theater on Bond Street in lower Manhattan, is an entertaining tour de force adapted by Thomas R. Gordon (Onomatopoeia’s founder and artistic director)  from the short stories The Fair Haired Lady and Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late by Maurice LeBlanc and A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.   The play provides everything that one might expect – the theft of a precious jewel (the Blue Diamond) by the notorious Arsene Lupin (Kevin Sebastian); the unexpected death of Mme. Rosette Bordeaux (Taylor Khaldy); the inability of Inspector Justin Ganimard (Alexander Larkin) of the French Police to solve the murder or robbery cases or to capture Lupin; the Police’s reluctant decision to call upon Sherlock Holmes (Philip O’Gorman) for help; - together with the mystery of the fair haired lady, the discovery of a secret passage at the Chateau Thibermesnil, counterfeit currencies, and, of course, the matching of wits between Holmes and Lupin.

It is frequently the case that the enjoyment of a theatrical production requires, at the outset, a suspension of disbelief, and that is certainly the case here.  For starters one must learn to overlook the actors’ on again off again French accents and focus instead on their general exuberance   And, if nothing else, they are exuberant.

There are fifteen characters in this production, played by ten different actors with several playing two or more roles.  Of them all, I thought the most outstanding was Lisa Monde who portrayed Alexandra James (A.J.) ”Raffles” Holmes, the daughter of Sherlock Holmes, a character invented by Mr. Gordon specifically for this play as a strong counterpoint to Holmes himself.  I was also particularly impressed by the performances of Kevin Sebastian as Lupin and David Alexander in the dual roles of Victor Grunbaum and Jean Dudouis.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


L-R: Zoe Watkins, Aedin Moloney and Barrie Kreinik in WHEN I WAS A GIRL I USED TO SCREAM AND SHOUT. Photo by Carol Rosegg..
When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout by Sharman Macdonald premiered in London in 1984 and was first produced in New York City four years later.  Now it is being revived by Fallen Angel Theatre Company at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre on West 42mnd Street in midtown Manhattan, marking its first off-Broadway production and its first production by an Irish/British New York based company.

Fallen Angel was founded in 2003 by Aedin Moloney, a highly accomplished actress who recently delivered an outstanding performance as Margaret Willoughby in the Mint Theatre Company’s superb production of Women Without Men.  Now she is doing it again, delivering a fine performance as Morag, a beleaguered Scottish mother attempting unsuccessfully to repair her damaged relationship with her daughter Fiona (Barrie Kreinik).

When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout is a memory play set on the rocky coast of Scotland in 1983 when Fiona is a grown woman in her late 20’s, shifting back and forth through a series of flashbacks between that time and Fiona’s early childhood, her pre-pubescence, and her teenage years.  What is generally established is just how blissfully ignorant Fiona and her best friend, Vari (Zoe Watkins), were of all things sexual and theological in their early years, how Fiona not only did little to alleviate those conditions but contributed to them, and how it all led to the direst consequences including Fiona’s impregnation by Ewan (Colby Howell) at age 15, her subsequent strained relationship with her mother, and the failure of mother and daughter to ever truly reconcile.

The performances of all four cast members were commendable but as for the overall production, not so much.  The play is really two separate plays, one a slice of life impressionistic expression of Fiona’s relatively stultifying upbringing with its emphasis on her sexual and religious ignorance and the other a more structured rendition of the events leading to her pregnancy and her subsequent relationship with her mother.  But the two plays never really mesh into one - the first is more smarmy, anatomical and distasteful than enlightening and the latter, which should have provided the play’s driving force, is much too tepid to be truly effective.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

HAPPILY AFTER EVER at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Brennan Lowery, Molly-Ann Nordin, Jeffrey Brian Adams, and Marlon Meikle in HAPPILY AFTER EVER.  Photo by Erik Carter.
For much of human history, little distinction was made between one’s gender and one’s sex, or between one’s sexual characteristics and one’s sexual orientation, or between one’s biological sexual markers and one’s sexual self-identification.  It was simply assumed that what it meant to be male was to have a Y chromosome, to have a penis and testicles, to be physically attracted to and sexually stimulated by women, and to think of oneself as a man.  And what it meant to be female was to lack a Y chromosome, to have a vagina and uterus, to be physically attracted to and sexually stimulated by men, and to think of oneself as a woman.  And all the parts were thought to go together in neat packages: chromosomes, sex organs, emotional inclinations, and self-identifications.  Sure there were tomboys and sissies among us – and occasionally we even came across blatant homosexuals or lesbians -  but those were thought to be rare aberrations of little significance.

Not any more.  The gay rights movement, culminating in the broad acceptance of same sex marriage, has led, in turn, to the recognition of the extent to which all those parts really don’t necessarily go together, a better understanding of the degree to which one might exhibit male physical sexual characteristics and a female sexual orientation (or vice versa), and the belated realization that we were wrong to have believed that one’s sex (as evidenced by one’s chromosomes and sex organs) and one’s gender (as evidenced by one’s orientation and self-identification) must necessarily coincide.  Yes, they usually do – but not nearly as consistently as we once thought.

Indeed, the very idea of there being any such thing as, say, a lesbian trapped in a man’s body was once taken to be nothing more than a sophomoric oxymoronic joke.  That is, until today.

It is this revolutionary change in our thinking about sex and gender that lies at the heart of Ricochet Collective’s production of Happily After Ever, a rather quirky impressionistic play by Laura Zlatos currently premiering at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  The play’s slight plot revolves around Janet and Darren, newlyweds eager to create a perfect life for themselves and one that must, of course, include a perfect baby.  But life throws them a curve when Janet gives birth to a baby with both male and female genitalia.  Is it a boy?  A girl?  Both? And what, if anything, should they do about – or to - it?

Are sex and gender absolutes or are they relativistic concepts: in other words, is one either male or female and that’s all there is to it, or do those concepts really lie on a continuum so that one can be mostly male or mostly female or sort of both?  And whether absolute or relative, are sex and gender fixed or are they malleable?  Might sex be fixed and gender malleable – or the other way around?  The questions never seem to end.

While the play’s primary focus is on these conundrums, the playwright also raises all sorts of other questions of a relative or absolute nature.  Are happiness and unhappiness absolutes or are they also relativistic – i.e., are we happy (or unhappy) irrespective of our perceptions of others’ happiness or unhappiness or is our own happiness somehow dependent upon our perception of the happiness (or lack thereof) of others?  Schadenfreude, anyone?  To that end, we are introduced to Janet and Darren’s next door neighbors, Jerry and Dharma, the perfect couple whose own lives come to represent the standard against which Janet and Darren measure their own.

In directing how the characters in her play should be cast, Ms Zlatos specified that “Janet and Dharma should be played by a woman or someone who is feminine” and that “Darren and Jerry should be played by a man or someone who is masculine.”  In fact, in this production, Darren and Jerry are played by two very talented “real” men (Jeffrey Brian Adams and Brennan Lowery, respectively) and Janet is played by an exceptionally exuberant and irrepressible “real” woman (Molly-Ann Nordin)..  But Dharma is played by a notorious drag queen (Marlon Meikle) whose over-the-top femininity surpasses that of most “real” women, only serving to underscore the degree to which our perceptions of sex and gender are relativistic rather than absolute.

Nor is it just the concepts of sex and gender that Ms Zlatos contends are more relativistic than absolute.  The same thing apparently can be said about the concepts of love and loyalty and most anything else you might imagine.  As an example, in response to Janet’s affirmation that she “was not meant to be alone,” Darren’s response is much less reassuring in any absolute sense than one might have expected:

“And now, you never will be.  Except when I leave for work every day.  Or if I take a really long shit.  Or when I need to get the hell away from you, but it’s pretty damn safe to say that I’ll be there for the minimum amount of time it takes to keep you around.”

And when Janet seeks absolute assurance from Darren that

”you’ll love me, right?  Forever.  And after that even.  And again after that”

the best that Darren can come up with is:

“I promise to love you as long as you don’t get fat.”

The only other character in the play is Tommy (Jim Anderson), a runaway, misunderstood family dog who, as it turns out, is really a bitch, Tania.  Apparently even the sexual identification of dog can be suspect and relativistic.  As played by Mr. Anderson, the droll and downcast Tommy adds further comic relief to an otherwise unusual and entertaining production.