Review by Tulis McCall
25 Oct 2009
Well, the biggest worry I had was that this production would be dated.
Oh sure it takes place in 1937 when boys still wore knickers and the only entertainment was the big radio that sat in the corner of the living room. But when and where don’t matter as much as the people.
Eugene (Noah Robbins) is our smart mouthed narrator who alternately relates and manipulates his story. He is a teenager whose main concerns are his writing and his hormones. His writing is pretty good. For his hormones he has his brother, Stanley. The two boys share a bedroom these days because Aunt Blanche and her two daughters have moved in on account of Aunt Blanche’s husband kicked the bucket awhile back and, well, where was she going to go.
There is a lot of that in this story. Where else are people supposed to go except to their own house? Your home is a safety zone when the world is just gasping a recovery from the Depression and is chugging full throttle toward a new World War. Never mind that you don’t know your neighbors across the street. As long as you got your health and your home, you are safe. More or less.
The Jerome’s live in a dark rambling house in Brighton Beach – the set is so real you can nearly smell the liver and onions. David Cromer’s direction guides the actors to move in a life ballet. While the boys are discussing girls, their cousin is dancing on the back porch. When father and son speak, mom is eavesdropping upstairs. When one-liners are flying, Jerome is upstairs or out on the front stoop writing it all down.
Simon doesn’t let the outside world get too close in this play. Our narrator doesn’t know from Depression or World Wars. And it is just as well. There is plenty of action traveling under the nose of this teenager to keep him occupied and in playwriting mode for a long time. Cousin Nora (Alexandra Socha) wants to run away to show business; brother Stanley (Santino Fontana), on whom the family depends for his $17 paycheck, is on thin ice at work; Blanche (Jessica Hecht) has a date with – egad! an IRISH neighbor; Eugene’s dad Jack (Dennis Boutsikaris) is on the verge of a stroke from worrying about money; and mother Kate (Laurie Metcalf) is driving herself cuckoo hurtling from pillar to post trying to keep one step ahead of every move made within a ten mile radius.
It’s more than enough. The world’s grumbling is never far away, but the microcosm of this family tugs on us one line at a time up until the very end, when we are a little surprised to find the world waiting on the front steps with new challenges. Simon seems to be telling us, “Yeah, yeah I know what’s coming. And here is how we’ll get through it – together.” This is a lumpy, imperfect family with battle scars worn on their sleeves – right next to their hearts.
Brave family. Brave writing.
What the popular press said...
BEN BRANTLEY for NEW YORK TIMES says, "There are definitely moments in Mr. Cromer’s gentle production — particularly in intimate, tightly focused scenes between two characters — that are genuinely, freshly stirring."
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ for NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says, "A production that's warm and funny (which was expected) and uninspired (which wasn't)."
JOHN SIMON for BLOOMBERG says, "Pleasantly relaxing fare."
ELYSA GARDNER for USA TODAY says, "With the right combination of comic panache and gentle insight, it can be extremely winning — and this cast, lovingly directed by David Cromer, has both qualities in spades."
ROMA TORRE for NY1 says, "Triumphant...a prime Broadway destination."
ERIK HAAGENSEN says, "Nothing is likely to keep the audience from having a great time at this revival."
ROBERT FELDBERG for THE RECORD says, "The comic element is weaker, exposing the dramatic flaws in a play that was once hailed for its seriousness"
MICHAEL KUCHWARA for ASSOCIATED PRESS says, "An enjoyable revival"
FRANK SCHECK for HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says, "While not neglecting the laughs, this is a harsher, darker version that might not prove as crowd-pleasing."
DAVID ROONEY for VARIETY says, "The revival strikes an exquisite balance between comedy and pathos."