Big Deal

-- Harry Weber

By Joseph Dougherty, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens
Kirkwood Theatre Guild

The musical My Favorite Year did not fare well in its original New York outing, and I was surprised that the Kirkwood Theatre Guild selected it for their season. Based on the movie My Favorite Year, a cine-roman `a clef about the '50s TV comedy/variety program Your Show of Shows, Joseph Dougherty's book for the musical feels secondhand, with no surprises. It's choppy, too, and never quite decides what it's about. Stephen Flaherty's music sounds like lead-ins that rarely get to the melody, and Lynn Ahrens' lyrics rarely flash wit.

The Kirkwood production, directed by Mark D. Vaughan, doesn't impose a consistent style of its own on the material, though Barbara Vaughan's costumes try, and its pace sometimes lags. But the director has cast some attractive performers, especially Troy Schnider as the young writer looking back on his favorite year and Joel Hackbarth as the swashbuckling movie star the writer tries to turn into a father figure. Bert Wunderlich's and Mary Ellen Tobin's comic skills make them convincing as the Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca figures. Laura Kyro sweeps all before her as the writer's archetypal Jewish mother, and Glenn Guillermo charms as his stepfather. Playing the love interest, Kimberly Sansone sings beautifully. And I wouldn't have minded more of Sanjay Shastri's choreography.

-- Bob Wilcox

By Ben Swoboda
Only Simple Theater

Chickenfeed, a new play by Ben Swoboda presented by a new producing company, Only Simple Theater, at the St. Marcus Theatre last weekend, concerns a family living in dire poverty on a chicken farm. The mother, Vera, is tired of chickens and perhaps of Kurt, her husband, who seems to be holding onto the farm through some sort of criminal activity. The son, Vess, 16 or so, has had to leave school to help out, which he cheerfully does. He studies comic books and fantasizes about being a superhero. He is also horny.

Then Rubie, Vera's 21-year-old cousin, shows up. Vess knows that her husband has thrown her out but doesn't tell his folks. He also directs his horniness at her. She, on the other hand, tries to seduce Kurt in order to get her hands on his ill-gotten gains. He does not yield to her blandishments, but she finds the stash anyway and takes off. Kurt goes after her, shotgun in hand. Vera decides it's time for her and Vess to leave the farm, and the last scene has Vess and Mr. Minosa, a mysterious fellow in a half-mask who roams through the play, admiring the moon.

Eugene O'Neill would have taken several hours to present all this. Mr. Swoboda, however, gets it out in about 45 minutes by not paying a lot of attention to character development, by not explaining a lot of stuff -- like the mysterious Mr. Minosa, and with the help of a lot of ellipses. Kevin Long, the director, aided in its speed by having his actors speak very quickly (ordinarily a good thing), but all too often into the wings or the back wall. The actors themselves did quite well. Tim Freeman, as Vess, was consistently engaging; Rebekah Dowd, as Vera, was a convincing 45-year-old despite looking 19. Matthew Davis, as Kurt, also did well as a young man playing an older man, and Cari Luppens, whose character Mr. Swoboda did develop somewhat, revealed her wickedness slowly and interestingly.

So though Chickenfeed's young author has some things to learn about the craft, he has some idea of what he's up to, as does Long, who needs a little more experience as a director but certainly gets good performances from his actors. I am told that Only Simple Theater will be presenting more work this summer, and I look forward to seeing what this young troupe, with a little more experience, will do next time.

-- Harry Weber

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