Secrets of the Trade

  • Date:
    August 1, 2010
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    Review by Tulis McCall
    11 Aug 2010

    This play is a brave attempt to be all things to all people. It dabbles with homosexuality, parental jealousy, theatrical manipulators, and more. It is equal parts sincerity and sentimentality. There is no one thread that pulls it all together, however, so the event is a bit of a bore.

    Andrew Lipman (Noah Robbins) is a teenager besotted with Broadway. He has been so since the age of 7 when he saw his first show. His mother Joanne ( Amy Aquino) and father Peter (Mark Nelson) not only support but encourage him to pursue his dreams. Each of them are living examples of dreams not fulfilled, and by God, their child will not suffer the same fate if they have anything to say about it. So when the 16-year-old Andy wants to write his idol Martin Kerner (John Glover), his parents not only condone it, they offer to edit the missive.

    The letter is smart and snappy, but there is no reply until 2 years later when Andy is “ready” and “legal”. It is these two viewpoints between Jonathan Tolins dashes back and forth. Is Kerner a dirty old man, or is he a mentor of worth?

    Turns out he is neither. Kerner is just human. He is a man who takes delight in the company of youth but who can or will not deliver the goods he promises. There is no door he will open, there is no connection he will make. There is only encouragement for our Andy to try and try again. This makes the play a little too much like life and not enough like art.

    The actors do their due diligence and dig deep into this material that nearly delivers. John Glover hurls himself into this part with a grace and enthusiasm that makes you believe something will happen right up until the last moment. Amy Aquino and Mark Nelson are touching as the imperfect parents who perform double duty. They encourage their son’s dreams and stuff down their own life disappointments at the same time. They also acquit themselves admirably in a host of other roles. As Andrew, Noah Robbins becomes more credible the older he becomes. They play covers a decade. Robbins’ teenage shtick worked in Brighton Beach Memoirs but he clearly has other arrows in his bag of tricks that would have worked better here. As Bradley, Kerner’s Assistant, and former young adoring boy, Bill Brochtrup spends most of his time onstage listening, but he listens better than a lot of actors speak. He is a pleasure to watch.

    Matt Shakman’s direction is, like the text, timid. There are several excellent confrontations in this play, in each of which the actors are directed to deliver a burst of tirade, then turn and freeze in a pensive moment. This is Directing 101 – the sort of thing that happens from lack of attention rather than commitment. The set design does nothing to help and more or less traps these actors as if they were toy people on a model of a set.

    This show will more than likely sell out, however, because underneath all the bland bits is the story of a kid who wants to make good and does. When the mentor fails him, the boy becomes a man anyway, with the good sense that his parents gave him. He becomes so good that he understands that although his mentor had feet of clay, he had a heart of gold – sort of, and that his true support team is, as it always was, his family. Secrets of the Trade tells us what we want to hear, and a lot people will settle for that, as opposed to a really good play, over and over again. If you want proof, just turn on your television.

    (Tulis McCall)