Toys in the attic (phrase) 1) Euphemism for insanity. 2) Bats in the belfry. 3) An old Southern expression meaning “nuts” or “crazy in the head.”
TOYS IN THE ATTIC (play) 1) A drama by Lillian Hellman. 2) The newest production at Tri-PAC in Pottstown. 3) The subject of this review.
There are certainly a lot of toys to go around in the attics of the extended Berniers family of New Orleans. Anna (Leena Devlin) and Carrie (Andrea Frassoni) are two middle-aged spinsters who have put their lives on hold as they take care of their ne’er-do-well younger brother Julian (John Jerbasi). Julian has a history of failed attempts to get rich, and Anna and Carrie have sacrificed to keep Julian’s dreams alive. The sisters are surprised to hear that Julian is returning to visit with his wife Lily (Elise D’alleva), a childlike and emotionally unstable woman. They believe that Julian has failed in his latest venture, and are shocked when he arrives with $150,000 in cash, gifts, and tickets for the sisters to go on a long-dreamed of vacation to Europe. Instead of sharing in Julian’s joy, the sisters wonder where the money has come from. Carrie especially is appalled at the thought of losing her relationship with Julian, and schemes to undermine his plans.
The Tri-PAC production of this classic play is very well done. The performances are all very solid. Leena Devlin’s Anna is the serious older sister, solid and reasonable, at least until she has money and gifts. Her change to the upbeat sister looking to the future was well crafted. Andrea Frassoni’s Carrie is pie-in-the-sky happy until her carefully crafted life is altered, and then we see the scheming person underneath. John Jerbasi’s performance as Julian, the brother trying to redeem himself in his family’s eyes (and his own) was wonderful. Elise D’alleva was also very strong as Lily, her character never over the top as the possessive and unstable wife who cannot quite grasp what is happening. Deb Snow gives an equally powerful performance as Albertine, Lilly’s mother, who is wealthy, somewhat jaded, and is having an affair with Henry (Lee Leagiton) a black gentleman. Snow and Leagiton do a beautiful job of showing their characters’ mutual affection in the face of Depression-era Southern prejudices.
Director Neal Newman does a fine job at keeping the audience reminded of the time and place. The actors subtly refer to the heat of New Orleans, and the changes in body language when discussing race betrays the inborn prejudices. Accents are consistent both from character to character and within each character. The set (designed by Eric Thompson) is functional and suggests a house in New Orleans very nicely, yet keeps the sight lives open to the arena-based audience. Lighting accents the scenes nicely, pulling the audience’s attention where it should be.
This is a very solid production. One minor quibble that I had was that the Berniers sisters (particularly Carrie) did not look old enough, and sometimes that made the motivations seem unrealistic. I would have liked to have seen some graying hair perhaps to give that middle-aged feel to the characters. But the performances mostly made up for this small issue. Congratulations to Tri-PAC for a successful run; it is well worth the trip to Pottstown to see this lesser-known classic.
TOYS IN THE ATTIC
Drama by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Neal Newman
March 8-25, 2012
Tri-County Performing Arts Center
245 E. High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464