Review by Tulis McCall
(21 Jun 2010)
Postage Stamp. That is the size of Theatre C at 59E59 Theatre. Honestly, they use every bit of space they have in the joint. Don’t be surprised if the restrooms are next.
The reason I thought “Postage Stamp: is that somebody got the brainy idea to resurrect a play from 1934 written by Ayn Rand, that includes 12 actors playing 31 characters and produce it on a playing space that is roughly the size of a bedroom in a fifth floor walk-up. It is a completely nutty idea that works.
First of all this is a bunch of talented performers. With a few exceptions everyone is versatile and believable. They tell the story of Kay Gonda (Jessie Barr), a movie star accused of murder. Kay has one of those terminal cases of specialness, so when the murder happens and she goes missing, no one is really surprised. Not the guy who owns the studio Mr. Farro (Andrew Young) or anyone on his staff. What they are is frightened that it’s true, and thus their cash cow would be lost. They are also pissed off that Kay has gone missing. What has also gone missing are six fan letters that were left on her desk. They are all from men who adore Ms. Gonda, and it is to them she is running.
The play then sets into a series of encounters between Gonda and her admirers. These meetings are more sociological than anything because our heroine doesn’t just show up, she walks into these people’s lives. The first, and most intriguing of the admirers, is George Perkins who writes “You know how it is; when you’re very young, there’s something ahead of you, so big that you’re afraid of it, but you wait for it and you’re so happy waiting. Then the years pass and it never comes. And then you find one day, that you're not waiting any longer. It seems foolish, because you didn't even know what it was you were waiting for. I look at myself and I don’t know. But when I look at you - I do.” No wonder he is the first stop.
But it turns out that on the evening in question Mr. Perkins has been made Assistant Manager of his factory, his wife has told him she is pregnant with their third, he has asked her not to have the baby so that they can have some luxuries they don’t need. Neither his wife nor his mother-in-law is real happy about his request. It’s not a good night for a visitor, especially Kay Gonda.
The rest of her visits are intriguing but don’t quite measure up to this level of conflict. There is an anarchist couple being evicted, an artist celebrating his latest series of paintings based on Kay Gonda, an evangelist minister down on his luck, a rich man gone poor and a desperate guy who is out of a job but who sees the real Kay Gonda.
The main problem is that the play is just too damn long. Like the King said to Mozart – too many notes – there are just too many words in Ideal. It comes from a time when plays were in three acts and a 2 hour and fifteen minute play was not unusual. It is unusual these days, and the length plus the predictability of seeing all six encounters interferes with what would otherwise be an enjoyable evening. The cast does the best they can with these scenes but it might have been a good idea to either cut two of them or trim the dialogue.
The other obstacle is the set, which is dull, cumbersome and takes up waaaaaay too much room in this tiny space. Rachel Schneider had a boatload of room in the corner, which is taken up as storage space. The set takes up about two feet of depth off a back wall for unnecessary lamps and fluorescent lights White wooden cubes are used as set pieces that the actors have to re-arrange over and over. We used them in college and in acting class. We don’t want to see them in a show, thanks just the same. This production may be on a budget, but a bare stage would have been a better idea.
The women, particularly Jessie Barr as Kay Gonda, are in need of a hair stylist who knows how to achieve that retro look. Please take the filters off the cigarettes. Get a phone that is old and black. Cushion the soles of the actors who have to walk on that platform. Use real glasses. These are details that glare in the light of such a good production.
As I said the cast is quite wonderful, particularly Dan Pfau who simply stands out as a clear and consistent performer. The ensemble gives each actor an excellent moment or two in the sun with the result that this rare story has life once again and this gamble has paid off in more ways than one.