The Elephant Man at Gallery Players

This review of The Elephant Man at The Gallery Players was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Elephant Man
Written by Bernard Pomerance
Directed by Mark Gallagher
Executive Producer: Mark Harborth
Director of Production: Scott Cally
Production Stage Manager: Katelyn Kocher
Lighting & Video Designer: Heather Crocker
Costume Designer: Joey Haws
Scenic Designer: Matthew S. Crane
Props Designer: Roxanne Goodby
Original Music Composition: Jacob Subotnick
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Reviewed 11/5/17

The Gallery Players strikes the right note with this production of the recently successful Broadway revival. The Elephant Man originally premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in London on November 7, 1977. It opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre in 1979 where it ran for 916 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Play. A Broadway revival at the Royale Theatre in April 2002 ran for 57 performances. A 13-week run of The Elephant Man starring Bradley Cooper opened at the Booth Theatre on December 7, 2014, earning Cooper, who appeared as John Merrick, a Tony nomination for Best Actor. The story is based on the life of Joseph Merrick, referred to in the script as John Merrick, who lived in the Victorian Era and was known for the extreme deformity of his body. The role of John Merrick in the play is a challenging and emotional one as the actor is tasked with contorting his body, throwing his voice, and delving into a character whose deformities have left him devoid of meaningful human contact. M. Rowan Meyer excels in the role, shining amongst an impressive cast.

The Elephant Man, John Merrick, a horribly disfigured man, was found by Frederick Treves, a promising young doctor, at a freak show. Adam Unze was simply awesome as this internally torn individual who finds himself both Merrick's only champion and protector but also put into a morally compromising position by the fame Merrick later gains (for both Treves and himself). After enduring being cast out and savagely beaten, Merrick is eventually reunited with Treves and after a successful fundraising campaign is allowed to live a life of comparable peace in the London Hospital with Treves as caretaker.

The Talk Back after the production

The Talk Back after the production

Dr. Treves has difficulty finding someone who will assist in helping him take care of Merrick who despite being cleaned up, even scares off a nurse who has worked with plague victims across the world. It is up to the wonderful, loving actress, Mrs. Kendal, brought to life by the equally talented real-life actress, Elisabeth Preston, to bond with Merrick. This is really where the emotional toll of the earlier sequences of the play develop further as Preston, Merrick, and Kendal pontificate on the construction of identity, the search for meaning in life, and the stark reality of Merrick's impossible search for normalcy. Perhaps most moving is Merrick's discussion of selflessness and love as he contemplates his own loneliness compared to the vanity of youth in Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. Eventually, the story comes full circle with the unavoidable death of Merrick in 1890, only four years after his return to the hospital. The afflictions he has borne since birth eventually kill him through suffocation as his head collapses his neck.

The three actors already mentioned were supported by the talented group of Daniel Damiano, Alfred Gingold, Christopher Romero Wilson, Brooke DeAnna Robinson, and Jesi Mullens. Most memorable of these characters is, in my opinion, Gingold's representation of Francis Carr-Gomm, Treves' employer, the chairman of the London Hospital. Carr-Gomm is such a key character at every moment that he joins the stage because he appears at key turning points and simultaneously creates a perspective of respect for life and contriteness about death. Despite these positive attributes (including his having led the fundraising campaign that allowed John Merrick to live out his days in the safe environment of the London Hospital), the cast, during the after show talk-back, gave him (the character) a hard time for his efficient (though not emotional) letter written on behalf of Merrick after his death. I am not certain I understood their perspective, but Gingold plays the role well. 

If you get a chance to see this or any play put on by The Gallery Players, I am sure you will enjoy it. Tickets, $30.00 for adults, and $20.00 for seniors/students can be purchased online at or by calling 212-352-3101. 

Annie at Gallery Players

This review of Annie at The Gallery Players was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Written by Thomas Meehan
Music by Martin Charnin
Director: Mark Harborth
Director of Production: Scott Andrew Cally
Set Design: Joshua Barilla
Lighting Design: Christopher Chambers
Choreographer: Emily Clark
Tap Sequence Choreographer: Robin Rivers Friday
Costume Design: Barbara Erin Delo
Music Director: Paul Helm
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Reviewed 9/22/17

The Gallery Players' production of Annie was simply marvelous. Anchored by a strong cast, this classic story of the hard-knock orphan who miraculously becomes the adopted daughter of Oliver Warbucks, melted the hardest hearts while remaining accessible to the plethora of children in the audience. Of all the actors, the most important were the orphans and these kids were great. This started the show off on a strong note and as each stage change showcased the staff's attention to detail, the audience could only be more impressed by this touching tale of fortune favoring the luckless.

Entrenched in the American canon, Annie became a musical in 1976 and ran for nearly six years on Broadway starting in 1977. The trio of Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, and Martin Charnin based the original musical on a comic strip that debuted on August 5, 1924, in the New York Daily News. This, in turn, was based off a 1885 poem written by the American writer James Whitcomb Riley. Having entertained audiences around the world in various forms for almost a century and a half, the musical adaptation of Annie's story was no different and has seen a myriad of revivals, productions, and tours worldwide over the past 40 years. You can bet your bottom dollar that The Gallery Players gave Annie its due. A number of the actors and actresses truly impressed.

From Gallery Players facebook page.

From Gallery Players facebook page.

Among the highlights were the popular songs sung by Annie in the musical. The young Emma Grace Berardelli did a great job in the lead role, especially when she sang "It's A Hard Knock Life" and "Tomorrow." I still have the tunes in my head, and her positive attitude and outlook on life should be adopted by all (not just FDR and his senior cabinet.) Berardelli's ability and stage presence were remarkable alongside talented acting veterans many years her senior. This hard work and dedication will pay off for years to come.

One of the best performances amidst the spotlight on Annie was by Luisa Boyaggi as Miss Hannigan. Convincing as a drunk and frustrated orphan matron, she brought out the best in her character in solo songs and with Alex Domini as Rooster Hannigan, her brother, in a solid "Easy Street." Her ability to scold, wince, yell, and throw her arms up in surrender was a testament to the complexity of the role. She made the character stand out as a complex, multi-dimensional woman with desires and fears as she waited wistfully beside the radio for a wanting bachelor while tormenting and being tormented by the girls in her care.

Heather Gault as Grace Farrell also impressed me. She looked the part perfectly as Oliver Warbuck's personal assistant becoming ally and confidant to the young Annie while maintaining posture and presence in both the orphanage and beside Mr. Warbucks. She had a knack for delivering her lines in such a way that perfectly communicated underlying meanings which mark classic plays like Annie as some of the best.  

I would recommend Annie to anyone getting to know American culture as well as families. This absorbing story is both fluid and dynamic, and The Gallery Players did more than a solid job. The ensemble of actors even pulled off a notable dance number (thanks to Choreographer Robin Rivers Friday) that brought me back to videos of Fred Astaire at the 1970s Oscars show. Annie runs through October 8, 2017. Tickets - $30.00 for adults and $20.00 for seniors and children 12 & under - can be purchased by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101, or by visiting  

The Conspiracists at the IRT Theater

This review of Max Baker's The Conspiracists at The IRT Theater was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Conspiracists
Written & Directed by Max Baker
The IRT Theater
154 Christopher Street, Suite 3-B
New York, New York 10014
Reviewed 4/22/17

What would happen if you put a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists in a church basement and they disagreed on the true conspiracy? Absurdity perhaps and The Conspiracists, a quirky, funny, and surprisingly dark play that showcases playwright Max Baker's ability to create tangibly deep characterizations. This helped to provide for a uniqueness to the experience that a viewer may be interested in for just the experience. However, despite the upside of a few laughs, the intriguing concept falls prey to awkward arguments and a lack of cohesive direction which can create a lot of confusion. If you try to follow the plot, then you may miss the jokes. The stilted narrative thread follows a strange sequence of events through three alternate realities (also different acts of the play). What's unclear is whether the actions in one reality always affect the other realities or if the sequences are happening simultaneously. The true boon, however, is that the play helps us to reflect upon different aspects of our own lives and circumstances to deconstruct what conspiracies truly are.

Each act starts out the same way. Win, played by Ian Poake and the leader of the Conspiracy Support Group, enters in a flurry and says, "Hi" to Jo (Ricki Lynee), who is sitting in a chair preparing an experiment. Win sets up the room and says a few things like, "I never remember how many chairs to set up" even though we quickly learn that there are only five returning members of the support group. He is followed by Emmett (Arthur Kriklivy) and Dee Dee (Sofiya Cheyenne). After Emmett changes his chair out due to a mark on the one Win set up for him despite there being a plethora of available chairs, Dee Dee arrives spouting a spree of complaints. Why didn't Emmett hold the door? Where is her prayer stool, which she uses to place her feet? Once they've all sat down, Jo's alarm goes off and the chaos ensues. Jo is about to participate in an experiment at the same time that the Hadron Collider in Switzerland will force a collision between sub-atomic particles. She places a favorite doll of hers in a suitcase, hooks it up to a phone, and dictates this to a silver tape recorder marking the other three as witnesses. At this point, things deviate from scene to scene.

In the first act, actress Lisa Jill Anderson appears as a neurotic schizophrenic named Madonna, who believes that she can talk to inanimate objects by tapping into their feelings. Lisa absolutely stuns the audience with an exceptional demonstration of crazy. At first, she is mild-mannered and compliant to the rules of the group, but when Brooke (played by Alice Johnson) begins to complain about being locked in the bathroom, Madonna goes insane believing that she is being talked to by a despondent ghost. She chants that she is the Goddess Madonna while performing a dance with a small statue that looked like a Golden Globe Award. The other characters are as stunned as we are and in attempting to calm Madonna down, we get some pretty funny lines about dealing with the mentally unstable. This is coming from Conspiracy Theorists who believe that Lizard people control the world or that we are merely living in a simulation of our own advanced race. I remember thinking to myself, "O.K., what just happened and where do we go from here?"

In the second and third act, Lisa appears as two different versions of the newcomer to the support group - Steve, a standoffish conspiracy theorist expert, and Hilda, a bubbly girlfriend of Emmett that he met through an online dating app. Each of these characters is so different from the meek Madonna that it's incredible to think Lisa was able to prepare to perform three roles in one. In fact, while Lisa's performance was above noteworthy, all the actors seemed to be really well cast for their parts. I found Lisa's performance of Steve in the second act particularly funny and dark. She laments on the various aspects of conspiracy theories acting like a pseudo expert and eventually commenting that "Hope" is the true conspiracy. Each act definitely takes a unique spin on the quest for answers as the conspiracy theorists slowly unravel and retreat into their own ideas.

While Lisa demands a lot of attention, she also plays catalyst to how the discussion of the group develops. Once her character enters, the group's discussion takes off. Unfortunately, for Win, and fortunately for the audience, Hilda (3rd act Lisa), presses him to seek what he really wants. This happens to be Brooke, who he has been harboring a crush for. He gives an engaging but desperate confession of love, and she, of course, denies his pathetic overture. It's one of the funniest moments of the play and starkly real. This soliloquy-like confession of love tops off a strong performance by Ian Poake. Sofiya Cheyenne, Dee Dee, also had a strong performance delivering some ridiculous lines without even the hint of a smile like describing our real-life Presidential election as being a race between "a Reptilian Shape-Shifter" and a "Snake-Oil Salesman." Without leaving the church basement, the group seems to cover almost all of the dominant conspiracies and even Santa isn't safe from the targeting. While there is no consistent narrative thread, the play returns to Jo's experiment after the discussions between the characters. She ends the act by pulling out what has become of the doll in the box leaving us guessing as to whether actions in this reality or the next affected the contents.

At times this play was emotionally confronting such as when Steve (Lisa Anderson) addresses the pointlessness of existence. Often these revelations are slightly disturbing. Thankfully, the dark, irreverent humor did not dip into the obscene or grow to the point of overwhelming despair. Although, I do wonder if overwhelming despair would have given the play a more substantial feeling. Overall, I did like the play and would suggest it to a friend looking for weird or who is tired of watching reruns of a show that follow the Friends model. On the negative side, the play did seem like one of those stories where in the end, the meaning is that there is no meaning. Whoa, so profound. Still, it was funny and the actors executed their parts well. I'm a huge fan of dark humor, and if you admire amusingly frank and sometimes uncomfortable comedy like that seen in South Park and the Fallout series games, then you'll probably enjoy a number of the jokes in The Conspiracists. Still, it wasn't so funny that my sides were splitting, and sometimes I was the only one chuckling at a particularly dark revelation of the absurdity of the search for meaning in things or life. If that is your thing, then this play is for you. If not, I'd suggest rethinking your decision to go see The Conspiracists. It can be seen at The IRT Theater through May 7, 2017. Tickets can be purchased at for $18.00 or at the door for $20.00.

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Luft Gangster at the Sheen Center

This review of Lowell Byers' Luft Gangster at the Sheen Center For Thought & Culture (Black Box Theater) was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Luft Gangster
Written by Lowell Byers
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Sheen Center For Thought & Culture
Black Box Theater
18 Bleecker Street
New York, New York 10012
Reviewed 4/15/17

Luft Gangster returns to the Sheen Center after a few years with many of the same cast members who appeared in the 2013 production. The play entertained audiences then and still does while providing context and clarity on life within a World War II German Prisoner Of War (POW) camp. The play latches onto your attention early and doesn't let go. The gradual building of intensity through the first few scenes, and the smooth introduction of various characters, actors, and settings, draws the viewer into the life of the lead character, Lou Fowler, played by Lowell Byers. Additionally, the script, characterization, and portrayal of the roles allow one to imagine the circumstances clearly without the play resorting to overdone dialogue.

Pre-performance at the Sheen Center

Pre-performance at the Sheen Center

The play begins with Lou Fowler at the bedside of his dying and widowed mother. This is a little unclear because the set design employed chairs as props for both chairs and beds. Following his mother's death, Lou signs up for the United States Army Air Corps and is eventually shot down over Yugoslavia in March 1944. Lou bails out of a falling plane and suffers shrapnel wounds to his leg and injures his shoulder. He is rescued by a peasant woman before being captured by the Germans. During his first interrogation, we learn the Germans are interested in specific technical and tactical information about Lou's bomber and bombing target. They utilize various techniques to get him to talk including the use of German-American spies posing as prisoners to encourage "cooperation." The Germans remind Lou of the many Germans who lost their loved ones during Allied bombing raids that deliberately targeted civilians. One of the surprising factors of this part of the play is the vast amount of information the Germans already knew about Lou Fowler, including the names of his family members and where he grew up. It is unclear how they were able to link Lou to his information considering Lou lost his dog tags in North Africa. Lou answers the questions with just his name, rank, and identification number, and is eventually shipped to a POW camp named Stalag Luft VI. 

Once Lou is at the POW camp, we are introduced to the remainder of the main characters in the form of other POWs. In total, there were two Brits - Randall, and Peter, as well as three Americans - Joe, Vinny, and Lou. While I can't say enough about the praiseworthy performance of Lowell Byers as Lou Fowler, the supporting cast was equally as impressive. Their ability to transition between different languages and effortlessly switch between roles built upon the intensity established by the circumstances of Lou's introduction. Ralph Byers, Lowell Byers' real life father, played a variety of German officers and did an especially brilliant job balancing intimidation with poise. Granted some of the characterizations were a little standard for World War II stories, however solid acting helped to create a sense of purpose to each character. Two of the best examples were Noel Joseph Allain as Randall and Paul Bomba as Vinny. They impressed with their consistent accents and ability to portray vivid personalities. Randall was a long term interned Brit who acted as domineering and self-righteous as one would expect. The gregarious New York Italian-American Vinny became the subject of suspicion for being a possible Jerry upon his introduction but later earned the trust of the rest of the group, especially when they started digging an escape tunnel.

Unfortunately, even after the group navigates the politics of the camp and fends off a potential German spy named Bill, the escape tunnel plan ends in the gruesome death of both Brits. Seth James' Peter provided the main comedic moments of the play with his various attempts to brew tea. In fact, the desperation of Peter to find a good tea highlighted the difficulty of life in the POW camp which was additionally emphasized through Lou's lagging leg injury and the discussion of eating charcoal. The group attempts a second escape using Vinny's Prune Jack, a home-brewed alcohol, which ends in the execution of Werner, a German officer, and solitary confinement for the remaining three Americans. During his time in solitary confinement, Lou hallucinates his family and friends, both living and dead. He snaps out of the hallucination to learn from Otto, a guard he has befriended, that the prisoners are about to go on a death march as the Russian forces are closing in. On this march, the three Americans devise a final escape plan, which involves a moral dilemma for Lou, and great risk for all three. Afterward and with his last breaths of life, Lou is rescued by an American soldier. 

Lou Fowler is portrayed as a decent fellow who steers clear of the more questionable moral decisions made by the other prisoners. For example, Lou doesn't interfere when Bill is killed by a Brit on the mere suspicion of being a German spy. In addition, when Otto needs to be sacrificed, Lou seemed torn up by the decision but how much resistance could Lou have offered when Otto stood between them and possible freedom? Interestingly, despite his bum leg, Lou was the only one to escape of the five POWs portrayed within the play. 

Luft Gangster kept things engaging on both a personal and dramatic level. The actors and the detail provided by the set and costume designers brought a gloomy subject to life. While a very small portion of the story seemed cliche, the truth is that we've probably just seen and heard a lot of stories about World War II at this point. This intense play moved fast. At points, time and scene switches were hard to catch while at other times it was very clear. Despite various time leaps, the play is fairly easy to follow due to its linear plot. Lou Fowler was a real person, and the play is written by Lowell Byers, his cousin, who also plays the lead role. Apparently, few, if any, artistic liberties were taken, so this is a true story of a World War II veteran's escape from certain death acted out over 70 years later by a much younger cousin. I'd recommend seeing this play especially if you're interested in World War II or gritty stories. It plays through April 30, 2017 at the Sheen Center. Tickets cost $29-$32 and can be purchased by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111 or by visiting

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The House of Blue Leaves at Fort Hamilton

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of John Guare's The House Of Blue Leaves at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The House Of Blue Leaves
Written by John Guare
Directed by Dennis Gleason
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
403 General Robert E. Lee Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Reviewed 3/26/17

As part of an active U.S. Army Garrison, the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater is a mixed-use facility, hosting live concerts, community performance, and town meetings. Currently, the theater is the permanent home for the Narrows Community Theater, who uses the facility in exchange for offering acting workshops to military families. The Narrows Community Theater has produced at least two shows a year since 1971 and showcases both a regular season as well as youth productions for their students. NCT offers opportunities to learn stagecraft, musical theater performance, acting technique, dance, teamwork, and the "business of show business." The seating at the theater is comfortable, and although it is far below the stage, most of the play is performed toward the edge of the stage due partially to the fact that each character addresses the audience.

The House Of Blue Leaves premiered Off-Broadway in 1971 and was set in 1965 when Pope Paul VI visited New York City. The play won the Drama Critics' Circle and Obie Awards for Best American Play in 1971. Subsequently, it was revived on Broadway in 1986 and again in 2011. The 1986 Broadway revival won multiple Tony Awards. Set in Sunnyside, Queens, the play focuses on Artie Shaughnessy (played by Gregory Mueller), a zookeeper who dreams of making it big in Hollywood as a songwriter. This dark comedy focuses particularly on Artie's deteriorated relationship with his wife and son alongside his new relationship with Bunny Flingus (Adella Rae). Critical reception has been mixed but generally positive for the various comedic elements. The contrasting critical opinions over Artie's "shallow value systems may have helped to propel the play to further success. However, the play was also successful in 2011 despite my opinion that the idea that a zookeeper might want to be a songwriter isn't that far fetched. It feels like younger generations are always searching for meaningful work until they find that they're already caught up in something else. In the end, this social commentary on the quest for fame is highlighted as a chief aspect of the play, but the play can be enjoyed without searching for any deeper meaning.

Fort Hamilton Theater

The play follows Artie Shaughnessy over the course of a few days surrounding the Pope's visit to New York City on October 4, 1965. In the first act, after failing to win over the crowd at an amateur night at the El Dorado Bar & Grill, we find Artie asleep in a sleeping bag on the couch. First, his seventeen-year-old son Ronnie breaks into the apartment and then Bunny Flingus arrives in a whirlwind of support, demands, and anger. While she wakes up Artie to go see the Pope, Bananas (Christa Comito) appears. Bananas is Artie's mentally unstable wife and while she showcases that instability, Artie forces pills down her throat and works to keep her out of the kitchen where Bunny is hiding. Bananas discovers Bunny sparking a confrontation between them that ends when Artie tells Bananas he is tired of taking care of her and is planning to place her in a mental institution. Artie then places a call to Billy Einhorn (Nicholas Hudson) to tell him of his plan to move to California. Artie had been promising Bunny that Billy would help him make it to the top. Bananas, Bunny, and Artie then go down to the street to get a glimpse of the Pope during which time Ronnie comes out of his room with a box of dynamite.

The first act of the play was completed for a staged reading in 1966, but it took a few years before John Guare was able to complete the second act - and it shows. The second act is a lot more farcical and includes the majority of the characters of the play starting with Ronnie discussing his eagerness to have been cast as Huckleberry Finn. The second act seemed a lot more like a string of one-off moments as the characters either stumbled over or betrayed each other in some way. For example, Ronnie kills Billy Einhorn's bride to be, Corinna Stroller. Einhorn then arrives to identify Corinna's body and runs off with Bunny to Australia.

The first act was funnier, but that may have also been in part to the delivery of the three main actors who were the only ones on stage and the best in the play. The performances of Adella Rae (Bunny) and Christa Comito (Bananas) demonstrated their skill and talent. Gregory Mueller's (Artie) performance stood out alongside these two. Although musically inclined, there aren't any songs that last longer a few lines. In addition, the songs presented were intentionally second rate and Artie, the character, made certain to sing those songs off-tune so no one would want to listen to him. Nevertheless, the play itself was light-hearted, comical, and amusing, but it in no way left the audience "roaring in laughter" as some critics wrote of the original production and revivals.

Ultimately, this was a quality production of The House Of Blue Leaves. It may have had a little more potential if delivered with an exorbitant budget on Broadway but for $20.00 at Fort Hamilton, it is a lot of fun and a great deal. The performance of the lead actresses will impress you and, if you like, you can contemplate the trivialities of sacrificing your sanity, family, health, or all three on the quest for fame and fortune. Online tickets can be purchased for $20.00 at The play runs through April 2nd.

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Sweet Bird of Youth at Gallery Players

This review of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird Of Youth at The Gallery Players was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Sweet Bird Of Youth
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Jesse Marchese
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 3/11/17

I had the pleasure of attending Sweet Bird Of Youth at The Gallery Players in Brooklyn. They have a little bit of a gymnasium feel, but it is offset by charming decor, refreshments, and seating almost on top of the stage. The show was sold out and the crowd was lively during the intermissions and after the play. 

Sweet Bird Of Youth, written in 1956 and first performed in 1959, was the last critically acclaimed play by Tennessee Williams before drugs and alcohol destroyed his productivity. He was considered among the three foremost playwrights in 20th-century American drama. When he wrote this play, Tennessee knew exactly what he was doing. Sweet Bird Of Youth showcased his skill delivering a masterclass in dialogue and story development. He used characters and actors to portray both simple and complex metaphors for both love and careers. The play is timeless except for a few dated jokes only some of the audience members caught.

Sweet Bird Of Youth at first glance and after the first act appears to be a play centered on the male lead, a young actor named Chance Wayne. However, he is used in contrast to the female lead, Alexandra Del Lago, an older female character. Tennessee wrote the play for Tallulah Bankhead, a close friend and one of the premier actresses on stage and screen during the 20th century. The genesis for the play was essentially a confession game in 1956 where she said, "I wish always, always, for death. I've always wanted death. Nothing else do I want more." In response, Tennessee threw in not so subtle lines in the first act for Alexandra Del Lago such as "It is not death, but life I wish for. Life." While Chance, a young hapless actor, appears to dominate the first act with his vitality and youth, the stage is set quite literally for Alexandra Del Lago, an older female star, to steal the show and at The Gallery Players on Saturday night, steal it she did. Nancy Rich played the part exceptionally and delivered captivating soliloquies and well-timed jokes that showed her blossom into vibrancy and life beside the devolution of Chance Wayne. Tennessee may have hoped to cast Tallulah in the lead role, but she never did appear. The female lead in 1959, Geraldine Page, won a Tony Award for her performance.

The stage at Gallery Players is set. 3/11/17

The stage at Gallery Players is set. 3/11/17

The devolution of Chance is the main plot driver of the play. Chance is a 29-year-old actor who never quite made it big and seeks to reunite with a lost love, Heavenly Finley, in his hometown of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Adam Fontana excelled in the role as Chance. He started out a little bumpy with delivering a southern accent, but in the end delivered it consistently and showcased his skill to emotionally deliver his lines. At the same time, the role may have originally been suited better for a Broadway actor nearing the end of his youth who viewed this part as his last chance to achieve something more. Researching this further, I discovered that this play originally starred a 34-yea-old Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke & Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid) and launched him to his own historic film success. At the beginning, Chance brags and boasts about his upward career trajectory, parts played and hearts won, saying he even dropped out of the Navy to keep his path to stardom alive while he was young enough to become a star. This sparks a conversation between Chance and Alexandra about youth where Chance answers Alexandra's pining for lost youth, beauty, and glory days with the lines "nobody's young anymore" and "nobody grows old."

This begs us to ask the question, what is youth? A mindset or a time in life when a person was successful, young, and beautiful. The play consistently discusses virility and sexual ability as more obvious metaphors casting the young Heavenly Finley, Chance's one-time lover and current obsession, as a seemingly old woman after having a hysterectomy at age 27. However, Alexandra states early on that time does that to a woman too (Menopause) and yet that she still pines for the sexual satisfaction of a young man such as her current companion Chance Wayne. 

More subtly, it seems Tennessee wants to contrast this typical vision of youth with how each character views their career. Each character worries that their career as an actor is over, but while Alexandra Del Lago speaks of diving into acting as an art, Chance Wayne speaks of getting his big break. She states that one "can't retire with the heart of an artist" while he parades a contract in front of his hometown friends. Much like Shakespeare had Hamlet give stage instructions, so too does Tennessee warn a young actor in Chance, through the voice of Alexandra, to devote himself entirely to his art and not to merely cling to the hope of making it big on one show. For example, Alexandra doesn't feel successful even after having performed on the biggest stages for years (without mass critical approval) while Chance feels successful after merely getting his first contract or appearing as a bystander. His main goal seems merely to be able to tout his "success" as an actor in front of his hometown peers who took steady jobs and earn a respectable living. In the end, he sacrifices a chance at his dream and loses his sexual ability through castration at the hand of Heavenly's brother, Tom Junior. While Chance's descent is completed, Alexandra completes her ascent by leaving St. Cloud to return to the glory of incomparable box office success.

Ultimately, the play delivered an entertaining spectacle. The actors and actresses performed their parts with emotion and passion. The play was funny, moving, and at times, unpredictable. Megan McDermott did a particularly wonderful job as Miss Lucy in the second act and I also really liked Benjamin Russell as Tom Junior. These characters appeared in the second act as obstacles to Chance Wayne resuming a life in his hometown. The actors all enunciated their lines well and their superior acting skills kept the full attention of the audience through three acts. Even when the lights fell on another part of the stage, they never took a moment off. I often wondered whether they would even take the time to blink. The Gallery Players did an awesome job on a well-written play. The only thing that surprised me is that we didn't at least give them a standing ovation as a courtesy for a job well done.

Sweet Bird Of Youth runs through March 26th at The Gallery Players in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased online at

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