Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Gloucester Stage Company Presents "The Last Schwartz" by Deborah Zoe Laufer - Last Week of Performances - Do Not Miss It!


Gloucester Stage Company is building a nice rapport with the work of Deborah Zoe Laufer.  Last season, their production of her play "Out of Sterno" was a huge hit.  This season, Gloucester Stage is presenting the New England Premiere of "The Last Schwartz," a beautifully written play about a family coming together on the anniversary of the death of their father. Under the masterful direction of Paula Plum, a gifted ensemble cast plumb the depths of familial affections and dysfunctions.

Among the themes that Ms. Laufer tackles in this play is the interplay between knowledge that should be kept private, but is somehow revealed and made public.  There is also a fascinating examination of the question of what we see, with a telescope reminding us of that theme throughout the play. In how many different ways can one be blind? There is also the question of what it means to respond to a perceived loss of control.  The set by Jon Savage is a stark reminder of some of these themes.  The family homestead is depicted with a living room downstage, and upstage bedrooms can be seen through the slats of wood that should be plastered over, but have either never been finished or are in the process of being dismantled.  At any rate - the slats serve as a brilliant metaphor for some of the actions that take place during the play - some family secrets will no longer be plastered over! We are able to peer into bedrooms that should be private.  Lighting by Russ Swift and Sound by Andrew Duncan Will enhance the desired effects, as well as the costumes by Elisabetta Polito.

Andrea Goodman as Kia
Brianne Beatrice as Bonnie
Gabriel Kuttner as Herb
"The Last Schwartz"
by Deborah Zoe Laufer
Gloucester Stage Company
Through July 30th
The members of this motley family are:
  • Norma - The oldest sister who has lost her husband and teenage son because of her rigidity and rectitude.  She compensates for her loss by trying to control everyone and everything. Veronica Anastasio Wiseman is chillingly brilliant in portraying the depth of Norma's desperation to be in total control.
  • Herb - The oldest brother who is married to Bonnie, a woman who converted to Judaism to join the Schwartz family, but feels left out in many ways.  Gabriel Kuttner presents Herb as a financially successful but emotionally troubled man who struggles with standing up to Norma and her controlling machinations.  His claim on the coffee table is a powerful scene.
  • Simon - The middle brother is a brilliant astronomer with severe Autism.  He is going blind, and spends much of the play downstage left staring into a telescope, replaying from memory star patterns that he remembers from his earlier days. Paul Melendy offers one of the most memorable performances of the season in this complex role.  His twitches and tics and eyebrow gyrations establish the character.  His response to Zia's attempted seduction of him punctuates the end of the first act. Simon is clothed in white, suggestive either of a mummified body or a Billy Budd-like embodiment of innocence. In a nod to Chekhov and "The Cherry Orchard," he is left alone at the end of the play, free to perform his moon walk in which he envisions himself leaping on the surface of the moon.  A golden image of a full moon floats behind him in the background.  It is a visually stunning end to a remarkable play.
  • Gene - The youngest brother is a smarmy and randy TV director who has brought along his latest starlet bimbo, Kia, to the festivities. Glen Moore as Gene tries to keep Kia and her unfiltered comments and unfiltered joints under wraps, but fails to squelch her primal energies. He also has to juggle the complexities of his prior relationship with his sister-in-law, Bonnie.
  • Kia - She is played magnificently by Andrea Goldman, Kia functions almost as a Shakespearean fool. Her obtuseness ironically brings to light truths that have been lurking under the surface.
  • Bonnie - Brianne Beatrice oozes pain from every pore.  She is in a perpetual state of mourning over her multiple miscarriages and still birth of their son. She used to be svelte and attractive like Kia, but she has let herself go. Her revelation of how she was treated by her departed father-in-law is one of the bombshells that explodes during the action of the play.
This play is both challenging and moving.  There are many moments of laughter and other moments of sober reflection.  The playwright has an ear for realistic dialogue and interplay.  A sequence of lines that got an enthusiastic and immediate response from Sunday's audience involved an exchange between Norma and Herb. She is frustrated with all of the messy aspects of their family constellation -  the arguments, the tensions, the secrets.

Norma: "Why aren't we a real family?"

Herb: "This is what a real family is, Norma!"

It is because of these kinds of pithy insights that demonstrate that Ms. Laufer has written a play that transcends the struggles of a Jewish family, and offers a universal examination of the constellations of relationships and complications that light up the sky of every family.

Paul Melendy as Simon
"The Last Schwartz"

by Deborah Zoe Laufer
Gloucester Stage Company
Through July 30th
This is the last week that this production will run in East Gloucester.  Do not miss it!

Gloucester Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Mini-Review of "The Last September" by Nina de Gramont - A Riveting Debut Novel



Nina de Gramont's debut novel, "The Last September," is a triumph.  I could not put it down.  She manages to weave together a murder mystery that contains threads of Emily Dickinson's poetry, an examination of what it means to live with a schizophrenic in the family, and the vicissitudes of  a less than perfect marriage.

Brett and Charlie are married and living near the home of Emily Dickinson in Western Massachusetts.  Charlie's brother, Eli, has devolved from being a promising pre-med student to being a chronic schizophrenic living from one enforced hospitalization to another. Brett's world falls apart when Charlie is murdered while visiting the family home on Cape Cod, and it looks as if his brother may have been the murderer.  Ms. de Gamony has created memorable and sometimes quirky characters who grab the reader's attention and sympathy. This is a promising beginning to what I hope will be a long literary career for this gifted author.

Enjoy!

Al