A View from the Bridge (Gallery Players – Columbus, OH)

 

Leave it to Arthur Miller to tackle the kind of deep topics that would’ve been impossible to discuss openly in the repressive 1950s. First performed with another one-act play in 1955 on Broadway that closed after only a few months, Miller’s A View from the Bridge was revised and expanded to two acts, eventually finding success in productions staged in England as well as in the form of several Broadway revivals; now this important piece about immigration and the perils of too much love is being presented by Gallery Players with a talented cast in a production that is largely successful.

 

Photo: Jared Saltman – (left to right) Sonda Staley (Beatrice), Eliya Smith (Catherine), Mike Writtenberry (Rodolpho), Brian A. Palmer (Marco), and Richard Napoli (Eddie)
 

A View from the Bridge takes place in the 1950s within the Brooklyn apartment of the Carbones, an Italian family made up of Eddie, a longshoreman; his wife, Beatrice; and their orphaned niece, Catherine, a teenager. Eddie has specific ideas about the kind of life he wants for his niece, his affection for her causing alienation between him and his wife. The situation only grows more complicated when cousins of his wife, the brothers Marco and Rodolpho, arrive to stay with them as illegal immigrants. As Rodolpho and Catherine’s friendship grows, Eddie’s concern for his niece’s well-being only grows, generating a series of outbursts that affect not only the lives of those in his household but the whole community.

 

Photo: Jared Saltman – (left to right) Brian A. Palmer (Marco) and Richard Napoli (Eddie)
 
Standouts in the cast are Richard Napoli as the hard-working but troubled Eddie; Mike Writtenberry as Rodolpho, the immigrant from Italy; Brian A. Palmer as Marco, Rodolpho’s imposing brother; Eliya Smith as Catherine, the innocent teen; and, last but not least, Sonda Staley as Beatrice, Eddie’s ignored wife. Mr. Napoli, sounding a bit like Stallone in Rocky, is excellent at making his point known using the script as written with its veiled allusions to homosexuality; this type of writing demands someone with the proper swagger and demeanor to pull it off with a modern audience used to far more explicit and direct works, and Mr. Napoli fits that bill. Mr. Writtenberry holds firm to his accent and expressive mannerisms as Rodolpho, perfectly demonstrating the kind of behavior that riles Eddie; their “boxing match” (choreographed by Ryan Metzger) is intense and squirm-inducing. Mr. Palmer doesn’t have a lot to say as Marco, but that’s because there is no need; his imposing stature and use of silence and a stare says more than enough. Ms. Smith as first seems too naive to be a girl on the cusp of adulthood, but that is precisely the point; her youthful energy grows into a woman’s resolve through this performance, even though her slip is still showing along her hemline throughout. Ms. Staley has a matter-of-factness as Beatrice that makes her performance all the more touching in the scene with Ms. Smith where she gently lets her know that it is time for her to grow up; when she asks her husband, “When am I gonna be your wife again?” one can feel her loneliness. Ms. Staley can only be faulted for her lackluster sweeping skills, an ability that surely would be second nature to a housewife of this era.

 

Photo: Jared Saltman – Richard Napoli (Eddie) and Sonda Staley (Beatrice)
 
Director Nancy Williams guides this production with a firm understanding of the material and at a pace that ensures no moment out stays its welcome. Ms. Williams missteps with her choice of underscoring music for two pivotal scenes in the second act; the music during the raid sounds like a scene out of The Maltese Falcon, and the violent attack at the end sounds like the rumble in West Side Story. The rest of the music in this production is well-placed and appropriate, so why have these two scenes play out with such obvious cues that dissolve the tension in their respective scenes? It’s almost as if the director doesn’t trust her talented cast to carry these moments on their own. Another unfortunate decision is casting Nick Baldasare as Alfieri, the lawyer and narrator of the story. Mr. Baldasare cuts a handsome frame, but his vocal modulation and speed make quite a bit of what he says unintelligible even though he is quite loud.

 

Photo: Jared Saltman – Eliya Smith (Catherine) and Richard Napoli (Eddie)
 

A View from the Bridge is absorbing theatre, and even with some notable flaws this production is worthwhile. There is a kind of palpable charm that comes through in the material and time period that is inviting and even a bit dangerous. This is the kind of play that can speak to empty nesters as well as anyone who has ties to family that can prove to be harmful if not properly nurtured and checked.

*** out of ****

A View from the Bridge continues through to May 22nd in the Roth-Resler Theater at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus located at 1125 College Avenue, and more information can be found at http://columbusjcc.org/cultural-arts/gallery-players/

Advertisements

Coney Island Christmas (Gallery Players – Columbus, OH)

People are so sensitive these days about offending other’s religious beliefs, but such wasn’t the case if we look back a few decades. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see a nativity play within a regular school once upon a time, and it is such a play that causes such a conundrum in Donald Marguilies’s Coney Island Christmas, currently being performed by Gallery Players at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus.

 

Photo: Jerri Shafer- (left to right) Laurie Alexander (Shirley), Brian A. Belair (Mr. Abromowitz), Rose Clubok (young Shirley), and Kate Willis (Mrs. Abromowitz)
 

Coney Island Christmas is a memory play based on the autobiographic writings of Grace Paley. The piece is narrated by Shirley (Laurie Alexander, so caring and gentle) to her great-granddaughter, Clara (Nora Butter, a little pistol if ever there was one). In it, she tells of a time in 1935 when she was growing up in Brooklyn and was known for her loud voice; it’s that distinctive instrument that gets her, a Jewish girl (the younger Shirley is played by Rose Clubok, feisty and determined) born to immigrants, cast in the plum role of Jesus Christ in her school’s Christmas play! Needless to say her parents have mixed feelings about her casting causing friction; should Shirley be allowed to perform, fulfilling her desire to perform, or should she be forbidden from participating because she is Jewish and the part does not line up with the religious beliefs her parents are trying to instill in her?

 

Photo: Jerri Shafer – Rick Cohen (Mr. Hilton) and Laura Crone (Mrs. Glacé)
 
The aforementioned Ms. Alexander (Shirley), Ms. Butter (Clara), and Ms. Clubok (young Shirley) are standouts in the cast, as are Brian A. Belair as Mr. Abromowitz (Shirley’s father), Kate Willis as Mrs. Abromowitz (Shirley’s mother), Rick Cohen as Mr. Hilton (the drama teacher), and Laura Crone as Mrs. Glacé (the French teacher). Mr. Belair and Ms. Willis are strong as Shirley’s parents, but it is clear that they love their daughter and believe they are doing what’s right for her; the scenes between Mr. Belair and Ms. Clubok are particularly poignant; Mr. Cohen is perfect as the emphatic amateur playwright/drama teacher, quite jolly and matter-of-fact with his delivery; and Ms. Crone has an impressive French accent and measured way of speaking that is eerily accurate; Ms. Crone is so good that I completely didn’t recognize her from Evolution’s Zanna, Don’t! from last month until I read her bio.

 

Photo: Jerri Shafer – Bobby Belair (Henry)
 
Bobby Belair is a surprise delight as Henry, who doesn’t appear to utter a word until he emerges as an angel in the play-within-a-play at the end. The whole Christmas play at the end is a riot as it is apparent that the staff has taken some liberties with the story and added in a few surprise characters, which I won’t spoil by naming them here. What’s notable about both the Thanksgiving and Christmas plays (aside from how hilariously they have been rewritten) within Coney Island Christmas is how they are performed quite intentionally flat and awkwardly by the cast, a great touch by co-directors April Olt and Sonda Staley.

 

Photo: Jerri Shafer
 
You don’t have to be Jewish or Christian or even religious at all to enjoy Coney Island Christmas; it’s very cute and sweet but also has some genuine laugh out loud moments in it. The play runs for one act at around seventy-five minutes, is family friendly, and ultimately quite a nice holiday play more about the importance of family and honoring one’s background than anything else.

*** out of ****

Coney Island Christmas continues through to November 20th in the Roth-Resler Theater at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus located at 1125 College Avenue, and more information can be found at http://columbusjcc.org/cultural-arts/gallery-players/

Brighton Beach Memoirs (Gallery Players – Columbus, OH)

Growing up is so awful that it’s a good thing we have to go through it only once. The process is only seen as poignant in retrospect, as the pain and embarrassment is easier to overlook in the rearview mirror. Gallery Players is now presenting Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical tale of youth, Brighton Beach Memoirs, as the opening show of their 67th season, and adolescence has really been depicted so candidly – or as endearingly funny.

Brighton Beach Memoirs premiered on Broadway in 1983 and was a hit, running over three years, and was then adapted into a rather stale and miscast film in 1986. The play takes place in Brooklyn in the fall of 1937 during The Great Depression and is about the Jerome household, a Jewish family encompassing Kate and Jack Jerome; their two sons, Eugene and Stanley; Kate’s widowed sister, Blanche; and Blanche’s two daughters, Nora and Laurie. Most of the action revolves around Eugene Morris Jerome, a fifteen-year-old who is dealing with puberty and the ever-changing struggles of those around him, covering situations as diverse as unemployment, death, love, and decades-old grudges that finally come to the fore.

 

Photo: Jerri Shafer – Neil Kalef (Eugene)
 
This play can only work with a Eugene that is of the right age and able to have frank discussions about sex and the difficult changes boys go through at that age; this production has Neil Kalef in the role, who is just the right age, has the slightly sour attitude commiserate with being ignored by his family, and is free from embarrassment saying lines that would make most teens blush and look away. Mr. Kalef is utterly believable as Eugene, and his asides to the audience are as honest as they are funny.

 

Photo: Jerri Shafer – (left to right) Susan Gellman (Blanche), Felise Chernoff (Kate), and Jenna Rodier (Laurie)
 
There isn’t a bad performance in the play, but special credit should also go to Susan Gellman as Blanche, Jennifer Geiger as Nora, and Rick A. Holt as Jack. Ms. Gellman plays rather meek and withdrawn extremely well, and her transition to being a stronger parent and more assertive in taking control of her and her daughters’ lives is revelatory; she’s heartbreaking while reading a letter from a potential suitor, and the scene she shares with Ms. Geiger in which she finally takes charge as a mother is electrifying. Ms. Geiger as her daughter Nora is present and reacts naturally to everything around her; she’s believably excited at the prospect of a career on Broadway and firmly stubborn to get her way.

 

Photo: Jerri Shafer – Rick A. Holt (Jack)
 
Rick A. Holt is extremely strong as Jack, the patriarch of the family, always the one sought out for advice and working several jobs to make ends meet. Mr. Holt has a brassy swiftness about him that makes Jack both intimidating to his family as well as the kind of guy you know they want to please. When he tells his son Stanley (Phil Cunningham, who is just right as the ne’er-do-well oldest son, and whose scenes with Mr. Kalef as his younger brother Eugene work because of their chemistry) that there is nothing that Stanley could do that he as his father couldn’t forgive him for, it’s enough to make you wish that every father was as honest and direct as Mr. Holt is as Jack. Felise Chernoff as his wife Kate is no slouch either, perfect as the nagging mother whose demeanor contrasts with the love she obviously feels for her family. Ms. Chernoff had more than her share of stumbles during the opening night performance, but I’m sure that had more to do with nerves than any lack of talent or preparation.

 

Photo: Jerri Shafer – (left to right) Neil Kalef (Eugene), Jenna Rodier (Laurie), Felise Chernoff (Kate), Jennifer Geiger (Nora), and Susan Gellman (Blanche)
 
Set designer Jon Baggs has created a set that qualifies it as another character in the play, complete with a living and dining room and stairs leading to a second level where the brothers and their cousins share separate rooms. It looks like people really live there, and such care has been taken to make it appear functional and appropriately period. Director Mark Mann keeps things moving and making sense, not allowing any scene to bake too long; he really gets the point of the play and understands how to make the actors work together as a family.

 

Photo: Jerri Shafer – Phil Cunningham (Stanley), Susan Gellman (Blanche), Rick A. Holt (Jack), Felise Chernoff (Kate), Jenna Rodier (Laurie), and Jennifer Geiger (Nora)
 
You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this production, and I enjoyed learning a bit about the culture. Most everyone will recognize characteristics of people in the play as being similar to some people in their own family, and there are definitely scenes that any male will understand and probably smile about to themselves. Some of the dialogue and situations may keep Brighton Beach Memoirs from being suitable to anyone under the age of thirteen, but boy would having seen this play at that age have helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one dealing with such issues.

***/ out of ****

Brighton Beach Memoirs continues through to November 1st in the Roth-Resler Theater at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus located at 1125 College Avenue, and more information can be found at http://columbusjcc.org/cultural-arts/gallery-players/