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Monday
Mar272017

THEATER REVIEW - "Death Of A Salesman"

THEATER REVIEW

“Death of a Salesman” - Produced by: Star Playhouse– Commack

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

Few, if any occupations are less rewarding than that of traveling salesman. It’s an economic fact of life that legendary playwright Arthur Miller seemed to sense intuitively, and he transferred that insight into breathtaking dialogue with his masterpiece ‘Death of a Salesman.’ The classic is playing now at the luxurious Star Playhouse in Commack.

This drama, centered on over-the-hill Willy Loman (played by Steven Fallis) and his semi-dysfunctional family, is probably one of the most depressing plays ever penned by an American author, though to be fair to the profession that Miller treats as an exercise in loneliness and disappointment, selling can be enormously satisfying. The truth of the old saying that, “…nothing in business ever happens until somebody sells something…” seems to have escaped the otherwise perceptive playwright.

That observation aside, the actors currently undertaking the demanding roles in ‘…Salesman’ are generally faithful in presenting Arthur Miller’s haunting tale of misery and decline in late middle age. Particularly effective is Staci Rosenberg-Simons, who plays Loman’s long-suffering wife, and who defends Willy at every turn, only to be rebuffed by her inconsiderate sons … and even the husband she so fiercely supports.

Ironically, the character whose every word the audience hangs on in this play (which is all about words) is salesman Loman, but it is Willy whose performance is sadly lacking in the articulation necessary to deliver Miller’s masterful lines effectively. At one point, he says to one of his useless sons, “It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it.” It appears that Director, J. Timothy Conlon failed to pay heed to that admonition, otherwise he would never have permitted Fallis to get away with the mumbling that so detracts us from fully appreciating at least half his vital lines.

One of the greatest mumblers of all time, the late William F. Buckley, was nonetheless in demand as a commentator and debater because he had an uncanny knack for enunciating the essential portions of his speeches with dramatic timing and emphasis. It is precisely this quality of delivery that the role of Willy Loman demands … because he frequently (and appropriately) seems to be talking to himself.

It would appear that playwright Miller had the motion picture genre in mind when he wrote ‘Death of a Salesman’ because filmed close-ups and murmured passages can work on film, but the stage whisper is one of the hardest dramatic devices to pull off in the legitimate theater.

This is not to say that ‘Salesman’ as performed at the Star Playhouse is not a satisfying production … indeed it is … especially when Rosenberg-Simons as Linda Loman relates Willy’s sad story in the middle of Act I. Her heartbreaking narrative (addressed so successfully to her sons) to a large degree overcomes Sound Technician Doug Gilman’s shortcomings … which failing, I have to conclude, adds considerably to Willy’s sounding hollow much of the time.

The bare bones set, costumes, and lighting here are adequate; and they should be unobtrusive in this play that is intended to focus our attention on one man’s decline into the depths of despair and depression. Like Willy Loman’s family and neighbors, we are interested not in furniture, clothing, or spotlights … we’re riveted helplessly on this burned-out Salesman’s inevitable descent into oblivion … where one hopes he will, finally, no longer depend on a shoeshine and a smile for the recognition he craves. 

 

Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month, and will be introduced at the Smithtown Library on Sunday afternoon, May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

Tuesday
Mar072017

THEATER REVIEW - "RESPECT" 

  

THEATER REVIEW

“Respect” - Produced by: Theatre Three– Port Jefferson

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur 

Leave it to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson … when they promise to bring Broadway quality entertainment to the 106-year-old playhouse on Main Street, they always deliver. Currently Mary Powers is at the helm directing “Respect,” Dorothy Marcic’s retrospective of songs that have defined the evolving position of women in American society throughout the past century.

Appropriately, things get underway with “Bird in a Gilded Cage” (my grandmother would have preferred “After the Ball” though she was never allowed to sing it, I’m told) and Lori Beth Belkin does a pretty good job with the lyrical plaint. Jessica Contino lightens things up with a cute rendition of “I Want to be Loved by You,” the boop-boop-a-doop come-on that maintains the show’s theme of female subservience in the early 1900s without engaging in too much self-pity.

Of course no musical genre can generate the precise degree of sympatico that deprived 20th century women deserve, like ‘The Blues’ can. To fill that prerequisite, author Marcic has selected “God Bless the Child,” and in this production, the nearly impossible-to-sing Billie Holliday ballad is assigned to Amanda-Camille. The much more manageable “Body and Soul” would have been a lot easier for Amanda-Camille to croon, while delivering the same message.

The fourth member of the performing quartet (all clad in black blouses, black skirts, and diamond necklaces) is the show’s narrator, Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni. She helps out vocally on some of the earlier tunes, but turns in probably the best performance of Act I with a tender “Que Sera, Sera.”

Logically, the brief second act (the outfits have become black pantsuits) illustrated the arrival of the Liberated Woman with the show’s biggest surprise, the catchy “You Don’t Own Me.”

One can understand why the often impudent and always irreverant Rush Limbaugh invariably used this number as the introduction for his wiseguy shots at the Feminist Movement, wherein he ridiculed some activist statement or other on the part of Helen Reddy, Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem … etc. The few chuckles in the audience when the ‘Respect’ quartet launched into the number, with its interesting changes of key, quickly changed to cheers as the four women interpreted the 1963 Leslie Gore hit single to perfection.

Apart from “You Don’t Own Me” and a nicely choreographed version of Nancy Sinatra’s number one worldwide hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” Act II of ‘Respect’ is more frenetic, but considerably less satisfying musically than  Act I (where are “Tammy” and “My Man” for instance?).

However, the one consistently magical component of this memorable production is the exquisite background music provided by Steve McCoy (pianist/conductor), Don Larson (drums), and  in particular, David Grudzinski who serves up the beautiful bass line flawlessly.

When the final encore had been sung at last weekend’s performance of ‘Respect,’ and the final bows were taken, I scanned the audience to confirm what seemed to be the case … and sure enough … every patron in the sellout crowd was standing, most still applauding, and many were singing.

 

Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s recently completed thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, is due next month, and will be introduced at the Smithtown Library on Sunday afternoon, May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com

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