Marlene S. Gaylinn shares her reviews on local theatre in Connecticut and New York in the Marchedition of her newsletter, On CT & NY Theatre. This month's shows are:
Westport Country Playhouse, Wspt. CT.
In choosing “Intimate Apparel, “ a delightful play by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, Westport Country Playhouse has ended its theatre season on a high note.
Sensitively directed by Mary B. Robinson, this is a bittersweet portrait of a spinster seamstress who is struggling to survive the 1905 “melting-pot” of New York City. It’s a story that may be familiar to many of us who have had a single relative or family friend we respectfully referred to as the “Tanta” (“Auntie”). However, despite the play’s predictability, when “Esther” steps out of this family album, the fate of this plain looking, woman who just happens to be black is absorbing and touching. Which proves that takes a fine writer, director, and a talented cast to take a simple story and turn it into a masterpiece.
Because Esther has gained a reputation for creating women’s fine lingerie, she is able to pursue her trade by mingling with various classes of society. In order to transition smoothly from place to place, Allen Moyer has neatly created sliding cubicles that depict the living quarters of Esther, complete with Singer sewing machine and a colorful, crazy quilt. Mayme, a prostitute who plays ragtime on her piano just fits into another cubicle, and Mr. Marks, the kind-hearted, Orthodox, Jewish fabric seller has his own intimate square of living space.
Appropriately situated above these boxes is the large, luxurious bedroom of Mrs. Van Buren, a wealthy, white, society lady. Each living space has one thing in common, a dweller with a lonely heart. And so, we are examining alienated people from various classes of society from the African-American perspective.
Nikki Walker is a sensitive, yet strong survivor, Esther. Aleta Mitchell plays her authoritative boarding house mistress. Leighton Bryan is the benevolent, society lady, and the gentle Jewish merchant is Tommy Schrider. The muscle-flexing Isaiah Johnson, who has more of an Irish accent than a West Indian, is Ester’s double-crossing scoundrel. The original, ragtime music by Fitz Patton is outstanding.
“Intimate Apparel” may be one of the best plays of this season.
Plays to Nov. 1 Tickets: 203-227-4177
OUR TOWN AT LONG WHARF
New Haven, CT
One should congratulate Gordon Edelstein for selecting Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” as the opening play of Long Wharf Theatre’s 50th season. He should also be given an A+ for innovative thinking. This classic work with universal appeal, ponders the cycle of life and the sobering fact that we are all bound to die. And yet, few of us are able to fully appreciate each, significant moment while we are alive.
In reflecting on this all-encompassing concept, Edelstein wove Long Wharf Theatre’s history into his production by incorporating several, former actors as well as portraits of deceased, theatre personalities into the play’s cemetery scene. He filled the stage with a cross-section of local performers who are enrolled in its various, community-based programs, and situated “Our Town” in a thoroughly homogenized community that is more of a wishful Utopia than a fact.
Edelstein’s vision is not a deterrent because in the end, “… the play’s the thing” and the hope is that you will suspend belief that this is supposed to be 1901 in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. If you ignore the daily, horse-drawn milk wagon, the newspaper delivery boy, stay at home moms preparing full, hot breakfasts and feeding backyard chickens, and simply give your trust to the god-like narrator, you will be both touched and enriched by the work itself – as was the very receptive, opening night audience. After all, we are used to taking the same liberties with Shakespeare – so acceptance of such mixed-up oddities are now considered commonplace.
And yet, for me first impressions are hard to dismiss. I was introduced to “Our Town” via a high school subscription to a series of plays. I had to convince a girlfriend to travel with me from the Bronx to Houston St., in lower Manhattan, on a Saturday evening, and I shall never forget my chagrin when we entered this small theatre a bit earlier than the crowd. Since the curtain was open and there was no scenery except for two workmen’s ladders set against the bare, brick, rear wall of the stage, we began to wonder if we were in the wrong place. “Was there even going to be a play that night?” Well, I have to say that in all my years as a theatre columnist, this performance turned out to be the most unexpected, theatrical experience I ever encountered. I don’t remember any of the other plays I saw in the series but I shall never forget this highly imaginative production of Wilder’s masterpiece as performed by this unknown theatre
group. So there! I guess I’m a purest.
At Long Wharf, Edelstein tenderly directs Jenny Leona and Rey Lucas as the young sweethearts Emily and George. Don Sparks and Linda Powell play George’s parents while Christina Rounder is Mrs. Webb, and Leon Addison is her husband. Myra Lucretia Taylor, like the clear voice of God, takes full command as our Stage Manager/Narrator. This unique production of “Our Town” brings its own, homespun atmosphere to the stage.
Plays to Nov. 2 Tickets: 203-787-4282