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
While I myself am not a fan of children, a child in the audience is, I believe, irrelevant to the review.
I agree w/Orla. The Audience isn’t under review.
I found this review to be unnecessarily harsh. Having seen the play after reading this review, I disagree with just about all of it.
The play I saw was well-acted and well-directed. The blocking and set design made the best possible use of a small stage. The costuming for both Amanda and Miriam was fine; one needs to remember that in the first act, Miriam is arriving home from work. A diner waitress’s uniform leaves little room for bohemiam interpretation. And I thought her second-act costume worked well. I thought the set design evoked the Waslyk’s reduced circumstances, if not Miriam’s bohemian mindset.
I felt the characters established the connections they needed to. A little more eye contact may have been good, but at no point did I feel the characters did not connect with each other.
Finally, as the previous two commenters have pointed out, a critique of a play need not include a critique of the audience. It’s irrelevant to the review and of little interest to the reader.
Without seeing the play, I can see that the reviewer justified in his remarks. I agree the audience isn’t under review, but a show’s appropriateness plays a part in a reviewer’s comments. The reviewer’s target audience are also prospective theater-goers. I don’t think the comment was made to say the outburst ruined the show, but to point out to a prospective audience that while the play may feature a child, the show may not be intended for children. There’s not much the theater can do about restricting who comes–short of a rating system. As a reviewer myself, I have commented on the set and how it affects the ability of actors to present the play’s action as intended. Performances can fall short for a number of reasons–a lack of energy and motivation, a lack of in depth preparation, or a misunderstanding of the play itself that affects desired impact of the play. Inexperienced directors (and I’m not saying that’s the case here, can take a play on its surface entertainment value alone and miss the part that makes it art), and some audience members are fine with that. Good theatre in the artistic sense, as is a good film, is judged by reviewers and critics based on the affect it has on them personally–so the review is a subjective reflection; but it is also an educated assessment and perspective of what an audience can expect.