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Lemon Sky – Review

Lanford Wilson’s Lemon Sky has been revived by the Keen Company and is playing at Theatre Row.  This play is considered the most autobiographical of Mr. Wilson and was last revived in 1985.  The play, told in flashback and predominantly set in the late 1950s, is the story of a brief reunion between a father and son.  Directed by Jonathan Silverstein, this very lovely play falls a bit short of brilliant.  There are some beautifully directed and acted moments, but there is also a small collection of distractions.

Our narrator, Alan (Keith Nobbs) is brimming with charisma and poignancy (I found him much more in his element than I did in Lombardi.)  His narration, and at times the drama, is intentionally self-conscious, a device considered quite novel in 1970.  (Narration and self-consciousness is now mainstreamed into reality television.)  The role of Alan needs to be entirely captivating and ingratiating, and in Mr. Nobbs he most definitely is.  While Mr. Nobbs does indulge in a small amount of Ferris Bueller interpretation, I found this less distracting than I did illuminating (I had not realized how effeminate Ferris Bueller was.)  Alan slips gracefully in an out of the narrator role and insinuates himself into the household drama.  A lengthy bus trip has delivered Alan (from Nebraska to San Diego) to the home of his estranged father Doug (Kevin Kilner.)  Mr. Kilner’s interpretation of a, not very likable Doug, is simply wonderful.  It would have been an easy one-dimensional portrayal, but Mr. Kilner goes deep.  He gregariously welcomes his heretofore ignored teenage son into his new family.  His light and cautious wife Ronnie (Kellie Overbey) is an eager step-mother, quick with the party line and a cup of coffee.  The household is rounded out by Ronnie and Doug’s two sons (a fabulous Zachary Mackiewicz as Jack and the older Logan Riley Bruner as Jerry) and two foster daughters (Penny, brilliantly portrayed by Amie Tedesco, and Carol, portrayed by Alyssa May Gold.)

The characters, their interactions and dialogue are drawn so realistically.  While we suspect what’s coming at every turn, the discovery is not really the point.  The point is how people connect, or disconnect, and what stories they tell themselves along the way.

This production has enormous potential, but falls just a bit short.  When mounting a small ensemble production, it is imperative that the onstage talent is in balance.  This is simply not the case with this production.  Eldest child Mr. Bruner is a very self conscious child actor.  Had he been the only child, one would chalk it up to child blindness (for some reason, casting directors often can not discern talent in children, going for appearance only) but Mr. Bruner is paired with the excellent Zachary Mackiewicz.  Ms. Gold is awkward and ill at ease, playing the fragile, potentially fascinating Carol with an extreme heavy hand.  Adding to this distraction is the fact that Ms. Gold is simply not the right physical type for this role.  She is not done any favors with the costume padding and “bump-it” hairstyling device.  Carol’s costuming doesn’t hit the right note any more than the set does.  Doug works third shift in a factory, the mortgage is paid with the foster child allotment.  There is no way that their home would be furnished with such obvious 1950s items.  Furniture was expensive back then, and new furniture would not have been within reach for a working class family.

Distractions aside, this is a very good play and a fine production.  If the past is any indication of the future, it does not get produced often.  For this reason, I encourage you to see it.

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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Lombardi – Review

There are enough gratifying aspects to Lombardi to make it 90 minutes well spent.  The (very thin) play by Eric Simonson, is based on a biography.  I don’t know enough about sport to comment on the accuracy of the football history.  (Let’s be frank, what I know of sport I learned from Damn Yankees.)  There are beautiful moments in this play that are by no means the result of Thomas Kail’s (In The Heights, Brokeology) direction.  Having now seen Lombardi and Brokeology I am left believing that Mr. Kail is adept at knowing his audience and creating a format that will appease.  What he is not necessarily skilled at is helping his actors connect resulting in a complete lack of dramatic tension.  But he does know his audience.  This production, at Circle in The Square, is filled with lighting cues, videos and sound effects.  But what a joy to see theatre in the round!  While one of the actors (Keith Knobbs) seemed to have a bubble over his head reading “pivot, pivot, pivot,” most of the actors seemed entirely comfortable in the venue.  Theatre in the round can be such a wonderful method of drawing the audience into the experience, and I do believe the format helped this production a great deal.  It is difficult to asses performances when there simply isn’t that much with which to work, but there was one clear stand-out.  Judith Light plays Vince Lombardi’s wife Marie and steals the show (I would use a football metaphor, but who are we kidding.)  Ms Light while known predominately for her soap opera and sitcom work, is a very accomplished stage actress (Wit.)  She owns the stage for every moment she is on.  She manages to do so without any cheap tricks (which would be simply disastrous in such a small venue) but by the sheer force of her embodiment of her character.  Dan Lauria plays her husband Vince, and from what people tell me, Mr. Lombardi was ferocious?  I wouldn’t know that from Mr. Lauria’s performance.  He was likable enough (which is probably not helpful for this role) but the stage is clearly not his home.  I have decided that he was saving his voice (I saw a matinee) and I have no issue with that, however, he seemed to also be relying on his voice to do all the work for him.  That can be a problem.  Even so, how wonderful to see an un-miked play!!  I was almost dizzy listening to sound actually change as actors moved!  How novel.  How wonderful.  The size and style of the theatre, and the lack of amplification was joyous enough for this reviewer, but added into the equation was the fact that the majority of the audience were first time theatre goers.  Now, this might have been the ONLY time they were to venture into a theatre, but that’s okay too.  Much has been made of the website tutorials that existed for Lombardi fans (“it is customary to applaud for performances that please you.”) but I say “hurray.”  Come to the theatre to see the football memorabilia in the lobby.  Take photos of yourselves (in football regalia) next to full size Lombardi photos.  Flip through the Playbill declaring, “I’d see the Blue Man Group in anything.”  Come one, come all.  There is a whole lot of things theatre should be (affordable, magical, etc.) but what it should never be is elitist.
The only downside to this “theatre for beginners” phenomenon was the high school class sitting behind me (who arrived 15 minutes late.)  Their behavior would have appalled you.  When the curtain calls concluded, and the house lights came up, I dear reader, had my own curtain speech to give.  Please picture if you will, my 5 foot 7 self looming over slumping sitting sullen teenagers.  Ahem.  “I’ve listened to you for 90 minutes, now you are going to listen to me.  This is not your living room, this is a theatre, and that is not YouTube it is a play.  Those are real people down there performing.  They deserve your respect and you will give it to them.”

I think I lifted some of that from Herbie’s speech to the stage manager in Witchita’s only burlesque theatre.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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