For my first review after my hiatus from STAGE, I visited The Playmasters in Neshaminy State Park for a production of the Bruce Graham play MOON OVER THE BREWERY.
An early play by Mr. Graham, MOON takes place in an unnamed Pennsylvania coal region town and deals with a precocious teenage daughter, Amanda Waslyk, played this night by Hannah Sobolevitch (the role is split cast with Julie Peterson), and Amanda’s single mom Miriam Waslyk (Pamela Dollak), who works as a waitress at a local diner and paints Moonscapes. Miriam is being wooed by Warren Zimmerman (Ken Ammerman) one of her steady lunch customers and a post office employee.
Amanda, who, it is stated, has an IQ of 160, has outwitted, and chased off, every prior suitor of her mom with the help of her imaginary friend Randolph (Timothy Kirk). Randolph now makes a reappearance, after some years in hiding, determined to help Amanda rid herself of a new potential competitor for her mom’s affection. This psychological twist pits Randolph against Warren, who is equally determined to win Amanda’s trust, remove her dependence on Randolph, and win Miriam’s hand in marriage.
The production overall and Saturday’s performance were marred by a few distractions.
One of them was the set. It didn’t evoke for me the sense of financial stress and bohemian life style that have defined Miriam’s life. It also needs to evoke the clash between Miriam, a free spirit, who can’t balance her checkbook and her young daughter who, like a seasoned businesswoman, is negotiating over the telephone, for the sale of a favorite quilt of her mom’s, with a local woman whom she’s never actually met. Different costuming early on for Amanda and Miriam might have helped define this difference.
Also, the area assigned to be the outside porch was so small as to be unusable. Actors moved awkwardly in the space while often not matching action to dialog, especially in the early scenes between Randolph and Amanda. And when Miriam and Warren play a crucial scene there, the bench they sit on, is so small, that you can’t easily play any of the awkwardness and distance the couple need.
The performance was also interrupted for me by a young child in the audience, who could not be quieted and whose parents finally had to walk the child out of the theater. I understand that this show features a child actor and that other children, some younger, would want to see their friend or sibling on stage. But parents have to realize the distraction it causes, to an audience, in a live theater setting, when they bring a too young child to an adult production.
My biggest disappointment however, was with the cast. I just didn’t believe the relationships. There didn’t seem to be any connections between the characters. Indeed, some of the actors seemed to talk to the ether rather that speaking directly to one another. This didn’t even work for Randolph – who is an imaginary person – but one whom Amanda takes as absolutely real. I suggest, as someone once did for me, that the entire cast try less “acting” and more communicating on stage. A famous acting text is entitled “Acting is Believing” and it is essential that the actors believe in what’s happening onstage, so we will too. I didn’t fully believe what I saw.
In spite of the points discussed above, most of this night’s audience seemed to enjoy the production.
Moon Over The Brewery
by Bruce Graham
Directed by Denise Puchalski
May 6-22, 2011
Neshaminy State Park
Bensalem PA 19020