Caught in the Net by Ray Cooney (excerpts) at the Theater Barn
When it comes to farce comedy nobody does it more often - if you don't count late night television or primetime television - than British playwright Ray Cooney. And practically nobody does it any better than Cooney either. He is perhaps best known here for his multi-marriage farce comedy Run For Your Wife.. This season opens with the sequel to that funny play with the same director calling the visual comedy shots, The results are even better than they were the first time around for these characters.
Brian Allard is supple, silly, sentimental and solidly sold on his right to remain a fixture in the lives of everyone he has touched. His character's two homesteads are more than a town apart, although bicycleable in a short amount of time, and he is constantly running between them. While Abe Phelps' set places them side by side for all of that farcical possibility, Allard manages to make his persistently more dissheveled entrances more and more distraught, exhausted and overwrought. It's a delightful acting opportunity and he makes the most of it.
His two wives are as different as night and day. Joan Kubicek's Barbara is all luscious curves and pretty hair. Lisa Margolin's Mary is slight, tight and darkly brunette right down to her viscious snarl and her way with a kitchen carving knife. They are the perfect opposites who have attracted their husband. The kids are nicely realized by Petrina McCarron and Michael Frishman, with Frishman just a bit edgier as the eagerly overanxious Gavin. John Noble plays the lodger's father, known simply as Dad, with an amazing grace as he allows his mind to slip into specious syllogisms. "Who am I talking to?" Barbara asks him on the phone and he responds with utter simplicity and sincerity "I can't see who you're talking to."
As his son, the lodger, also known as Stanley Gardner, John Philip Cromie has the best of all possible farce roles, the hapless friend suckered into helping the "hero" and ending up near death, stark naked, assumed to be gay and dangerously close to his own nervous breakdown. Cromie has a field day with all of this, playing it to the hilt, but never going across that narrow borderline into stupidity and silliness. How he manages to play it all with such complete believability is impossible to comprehend. That he does it so well and makes us respond so perfectly is a tribute to both the actor and his director.
◊ 6-17-06 ◊
The Graduate by Terry Johnson (excerpts) at The Theater Barn
Good comedies are hard to find and Terry Johnson's play, The Graduate, is not exactly a good comedy, but neither is it a tragedy as it turns out. Instead, this play performs a balancing act, a delicate balancing act, teetering between sex farce and dark comedy, between sit-com and family drama. There are laughs, chuckles, a tear or two and satisfaction that comes with a much more satisfying ending than the movie version ever allowed its audience.
As Mrs. Robinson we have Gloria Glynn returning to the Barn after a long hiatus. She is a strong actress and her performance is less subtle than her predecessors, but she is just as bitchy, just as demanding, just as unavoidable. Her scenes with her daughter are among the highlights of this play... As her daughter Petrina McCarron handles the challenge very well. She is always her own person, but now and then there is a flicker of resemblance to Glynn's "mother" and we have to wonder what she will be like when she reaches her forties. It's good work by McCarron. Benjamin is played by Michael Frishman and he's just plain wonderful in the role. His modesty, his boldness, his love-making and his often childlike simplicity always manage to be the correct note to be sung at the moment.
As directed by Tony Capone the company does wonderfully. This is an unusual experience, satisfying and entertaining, and a perfect summer's eve stage work. Try to catch it if you can. You won't wonder anymore about that ambiguous ending in the movie.
◊ 7-01-06 ◊
DEATHTRAP by Ira Levin (excerpts) directed by Philip C. Rice
I do believe that this is one of those nearly indestructable plays. Performed by six Borneo monkeys, the play would survive. Observed by a hundred of them, the play would come through. Luckily here in New Lebanon we have done much better than monkeys, although I was surprised at how many people were seeing the play (and hadn't seen the Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Canon film) for the first time. For them each and every twist, turn and surprise in the script had an impact.
Sidney Bruhl, a playwright with a string of flops, contrives a plot to inherit his wife's fortune. This leads to dire consequences for him at the hands of his lover, his lawyer and a neighbor. That, in a nutshell, is the story. I'm not about to give away any of those surprises just in case you happen to be one of those folks who don't know what happens.
Sidney is played by Anthony Crep who plays much of the first act without any sense of anger, guilt, rage, lust, love, disgust, anxiety, creativity or any emotion whatsoever, but when he turns on his quotient of feelings, shortly before the intermission, he becomes more than credible and finally quite intriguing. It's a very odd way to play this character, but it is set in Connecticut, so Bruhl might be a Maine man out-of-place. As his wife, Myra, Lisa Margolin ages a bit from her earlier roles here and she makes Myra almost too likeable When we learn that she has been keeping secrets from Sidney it doesn't come as much of a shock. Somehow, in the tightness of her performance, Margolin has given us a hint or two. If anything, in scene one, she seems a bit too sturdy and in control. It's a trap role, and she takes few risks, is never on the edge.
Clifford, the younger writer, is played nicely by Robert McCaffrey, a Theater Barn favorite. He doesn't quite match up with the character's description of a beautiful young man, but he does very well with the level of beauty he has at his command. Opening night he seemed a bit unsure of this lines, but that should pass quickly. He gives a truly believable performance.
Psychic Helga Ten Dorp is neatly played, with a German accent instead of Dutch, but that's a silly quibble, by Donna Gould Carsten and John Trainor plays lawyer Porter Milgram in an off-hand way, that is until the final scene when he really comes to life.
Abe Phelps set has that definitive Theater Barn mystery show quality about it: upstage right French Windows with bush; upstage left staircase and so on. It's functional and it works for the piece. So does Allen Phelps lighting. Jacci Fredenburg has complemented the play with appropriately late 70s clothing.
Deathtrap, taken on all its best points, is a thrill of a thriller. This rendition is so credible that it's worth a shot. See it, see if it surprises you at all, but don't tell anyone the ending. That's a no-no.