Ah, the 1980s (or, perhaps, the late 1970’s)! The clothes, the hair, the vintage gadgetry! The attitudes and aspirations! The limitless horizons!
Ah! New York …!
Cary Players’ current presentation of Wendy Wasserstein’s Isn’t It Romantic gives us a slice of life — specifically, a slice of the lives of two women in their late twenties, living in “the city” in “those times.”
The audience gets to be a fly on the wall for a series of 13 scenes that offer delightfully entertaining and defining moments. With director Kirsten Ehlert’s choices and direction, this production is a smooth-flowing, nicely paced ride. The show begins with a well-written, well-cast, and expertly delivered curtain speech that gets the show off on the right foot. Be prepared to be entertained and touched from the very start and throughout.
Jane (Liz Webb) is a freelance writer who has just moved into her own apartment. She’s artistic; she’s witty; she’s Jewish. Wardrobe-wise: she has a kind of a “plain Jane” streak. She has hopes and dreams on both a personal and a professional level. Through Webb’s portrayal of the character, we are able to share her successes as well as her frustrations and partial-triumphs.
Her parents, Tasha and Simon (Mary Beth Hollman and David Akiva Klionsky) are doting Jewish parents. They have hopes and dreams for Jane, too; and they are not afraid to keep her constantly reminded. Caricatures? Perhaps so, but delightful individuals nonetheless. (Kudos, by the way, for the accents!)
Tasha has been swept up by some of the crazes of the era. Her clothes are outrageous but appropriate for her activities. Her eating habits are interesting. Hollman keeps her character “in the moment” while constantly drawing on facets of the character’s personality that share with us delightful nuances.
Simon is in the restaurant business — extremely successful. But his specialty is popovers. Popovers? Wendy Wasserstein might be making a statement about “Americanization.” (We get a similar notion when the subject of names becomes an issue on a few occasions.) Klionsky’s Simon is earnestly well-meaning every time he approaches his daughter with gifts. Does he have a streak of clueless-ness?
Marty (Danny Mullins) is the Jewish doctor that the Tashas in this world encourage their Janes to marry. He’s the son of another successful businessman. He wants the best for himself and Jane (his “Monkey”). He also is clueless on more than one level. Mullins’ performance, however, makes sure that we remain aware that Marty’s intentions are always pure and for the best. (The feeling that there is a statement about Americanization arises yet again in the interactions between these two.)
Harriet (Megan Woronka) is gorgeous! She dresses elegantly. She’s a Harvard MBA, embarking on a promising career. Her mother was a professional success, and we can’t help but feel that she will be also. Her first visit to Jane’s apartment is endearing as well as funny. The friendship and the caring between the two young women is never more evident. No doctor-husband is required for this gentile — she’s intrigued by a corporate sleaze ball (but where can this relationship possibly go?). In the course of the play, Woronka shows us Harriet’s vulnerability, a vulnerability of which Harriet herself will probably never be aware.
Lillian (Ann Forsthoefel) is Harriet’s mother. What a delight! Forsthoefel’s choice of tone-of-voice is only the first step in establishing the character’s overall attitude and outlook. Prepare to be impressed.
Paul (Larry Evans) is Harriet’s “love” interest — the corporate sleaze ball, part of the “40%” (you will understand later). Everything that we learn about him begs us to detest him, yet Evans somehow manages to make him likeable.
Cameos by Josh Henderson (as Vladimir), Michelle Corbitt (as Cynthia), and Nicola Lefler, Del Flack, and James Bisher (as “Voice Over Talent”) round out the cast — they are also rich.
The set (designed by Ami Kirk Jones and built by a team led by Ian Robson) is a series of flown-in back drops with furniture carried on and off by a well-organized Deck Crew (kudos to deck crew chief Julie Weber and stage manager Natasha Jackson). We make multiple visits to the two women’s apartments, single visits to each of two restaurants and to Lillian’s office, and multiple visits to a certain park bench in Central Park South. The Department of Picky-Picky was on the lookout for set changes to be “too long and tedious.” This simply was not the case. Perhaps, the choice of the accompanying music made the difference.
A subliminal observation: there is a continuity of story and theme every time we return to a location, a continuity that augments that which is established by the passing of linear time. Pay particular attention when the action returns to the setting of the opening scene.
Speaking of the significance of names: Is there anything buried in the Wendy Wasserstein’s choice of the names “Simon” and “Paul?” In biblical stories, we can find a Paul-who-used-to-be-Saul, and there is a Simon-who-is-renamed-Peter. There is, after all, one significant name-change in the course of the play.
The Cary Players’ production of Isn’t It Romantic is highly recommended. Be sure to listen to Ella Fitzgerald’s song, “Isn’t It Romantic?” at least one time before attending. The song is available on YouTube, and listening to it will be four minutes well-spent.
While the song concentrates on one meaning of the word “romantic,” it is worth noting that the dictionary offers three:
- conducive to or characterized by the expression of love.
- of, characterized by, or suggestive of an idealized view of reality.
- a person with romantic beliefs or attitudes.
I can’t help but feel that Wendy Wasserstein wants us to keep all three in mind. Oh: be sure to take advantage of the Yiddish “vocabulary lesson” on the back cover of the program. You’ll be glad you did!
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 12th Raleigh, NC Cary News preview by Kathryn Trogdon: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/cary-news/article35745606.html.
The Cary Players present ISN’T IT ROMANTIC at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25, 3 p.m. Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 and 3, and 3 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave., Cary, North Carolina 27511.
TICKETS: $20 ($18 students and seniors), except $17 per person for groups of 20 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 800-514-3849 or http://caryplayers.org/shows/isnt-it-romantic/ (right-hand column).
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27th, performance.
Isn’t it Romantic (1983 Off-Broadway comedy): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1213 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database),
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Wendy Wasserstein (Brooklyn, NY-born playwright and screenwriter, 1950-2006): http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=9054 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0913715/ (Internet Movie Database), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Wasserstein (Wikipedia).
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.