Review by Elise Marenson
This marvelous Keen Company revival of Paddy Chayefsky’s Middle of the Night (1954) gives us the gift of seeing how the work should be done. Middle of the Night was staged by Joshua Logan at the ANTA Theatre in 1956. The original cast included Gena Rowlands as The Girl (Betty) and Edward G. Robinson as The Manufacturer (Jerry). Keen Company’s mission statement attributes its inspiration to the works of early 20th Century American playwrights. Kudos to Jonathan Silverstein, Keen Artistic Director and director of this fine production, for reintroducing us to a lesser known Chayefsky work than Marty, The Tenth Man, and his 1977 Oscar winning screenplay Network.
The loneliness of the middle aged man moving through life on auto pilot, then exploding into risky, life altering action, is a theme explored by Chayefsky in Marty and Network. In Middle of the Night, Jerry “The Manufacturer” (Jonathan Hadary), co-owner of a garment firm, lost his wife over a year ago. His eldest sibling Evelyn “The Sister” (Denise Lute) has moved in with him to direct operations at Jerry’s wifeless Upper West Side apartment. Fussing over Jerry, too, is Lillian “The Daughter” (Melissa Miller), young wife and new mother from New Rochelle. Lillian’s meddling in her father’s life practically torpedoes her own marriage. I was taken aback when she asks her father how well his sex life is going.
Despite Evelyn’s nearly incestuous attachment to her younger brother, she is hell bent on fixing Jerry up with Mrs. Nieman “The Widow” (Amelia Campbell) whose husband’s dead body is still warm. Ah, the Fifties. A widow could barely survive six months alone before she and her girlfriends launch the hunt for the next husband. Mrs. Nieman tries to hook Jerry with a vigorous game of Jewish geography. But Jerry will have none of his sister’s matchmaking, though he tried a hooker and a buyer from Lord & Taylor. He talks like an old man, weary with mental fatigue and physical pain. In contemporary context, he surprises when he mentions he is fifty-three. No gym work-out in those days. Today fifty-three really is the new thirty-three.
The play opens on the working class apartment of “The Girl” Betty’s (Nicole Lowrance) mother. Betty is the twenty-four year old receptionist at Jerry’s office. She is distraught over inattentive George “The Husband” (Todd Bartels), a musician constantly on the road, and when he is home, he never listens to her. She runs to her mother’s, calls in sick at work, and begs “The Mother” (Amelia Campbell) to go in late to her job at Cushman’s so she can vent about getting a divorce. Since Betty’s father ran out on them when she was six, her mother has been occupied with “The Kid Sister” (Alyssa May Gold) and is guilt ridden for neglecting Betty during her formative years. A needy woman-child, Betty is ripe for a May-December romance.
That same day, Jerry needs some sales slips Betty took home with her. Instead of sending a messenger, he drops by her mother’s West Side apartment. Instinctively sensing Jerry’s kindness, Betty bursts into tears. She spills her guts to him while he patiently listens. Great craftsmen say that great acting is all about listening. Mr. Hadary’s face is beautiful and wonderous, as he watches and discovers Betty. It is brilliant acting.
A quick afternoon errand turns into an invitation to dinner. Thus a new kind of love for Betty and Jerry begins on this day. After three months of dinners and walks, Jerry is so respectful and terrified of making love to Betty that she has to proposition him. Their first sex together isn’t bells and banjos, but Betty is a smart girl and far from shallow. She appreciates this sweet, caring man who comes to deeply love her. Betty is an unexpected miracle in Jerry’s fading life. Their love changes him. He likes winter now and walks without galoshes.
Andy Webster for New York Times
"Jonathan Silverstein’s new production should be more vivid, but the script itself is a gentle look at a May-December romance that doesn’t come across as icky."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"It tends to meander as drama."
Michael Sommers of the Newsroom Jersey
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