NUTS…is she or isn’t she? That is the basic question, and the basic plot of the latest production at Forge Theatre in Phoenixville. NUTS is the 1979 play by Tom Topor that explores the subjects of sexual abuse, family issues, and the aspects of the criminal court system. The play revolves around Claudia Draper, a high class prostitute who allegedly killed a client in self-defense. Her parents, Rose and stepfather Arthur, in an attempt to avoid a scandal, try to have Claudia declared mentally incompetent and unable to stand trial. Realizing that if she is found to be mentally incompetent, she will be remanded to a psychiatric facility for an indefinite period, Claudia is determined to prove she is able to stand trial. However, her mistrust of the doctors who examined her, the court proceedings and even her attorney causes Claudia to be disruptive, calling her sanity into question even further.
There were some excellent performances in this production, beginning with Andrea Frassoni as Claudia. From the very outset, her character was almost wild, being disrespectful of the people and proceedings at the trial. While mocking the doctor, the DA and the court, she never went over the top into parody, and kept her focus on the reasons behind the outbreaks. Her later description of her “job” was haunting, and the penultimate scene (virtually a lengthy monologue) had the audience holding its collective breath…wonderful job by a talented actress. Equally impressive was Bob Goretski as the defense attorney, Aaron Levinsky. Goretski’s natural comedic skills were subdued as they had to be for this role, and he was equal parts shyster, charlatan, and carnival barker as the attorney who is given a most difficult task…convincing a skeptical court of a client’s sanity, when even the client doesn’t seem to cooperate. Cindy Schneider (Rose) was the devoted mother, trying to love her estranged daughter while dreading the proceedings, and crumbling in horror as family secrets are revealed. Burt Merriam (Arthur) was the devoted stepfather, common man, and there for his daughter, until those same secrets threatened to destroy his marriage. Vincent Reale (Dr. Rosenthal) was at first very relaxed during testimony, until the defense was able to dig under the cool exterior, and his arrogance and animus toward Claudia are revealed.
Director Hal Holtzer kept the pace moving along, not rushing, but allowing the tension of the piece to build. The characters were all solid, and the natural humor of some of the situations was allowed to happen. There is nothing wrong with allowing a drama to be funny at the correct times, and this was done almost to perfection, permitting the audience to relax and get ready for the next tense ride.
Opening night of NUTS was very solid, and I expect it to improve as the talented cast gets to work in front of live audiences.
by Tom Topor
Directed by Hal Holtzer
September 12-28, 2014
241 First Avenue
Phoenixville, PA 19460