By Muriel Reznik
Director Carol M. Rice
Stage Manager Kelton Neals
Set Design Abby Kipp Roberts
Lighting Design Kenneth Hall
Sound Design Jason Rice
Costume Design Connie George
Properties Design Kristin M. Burgess
John Cleves Mark Massey
Ellen Gordon Jade Reyes
Cass Henderson Eddy Herring
Dorothy Cleves Lucia Welch
Reviewed Performance: 1/26/2019
Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
This play is old by current standards. Really old! Written by Muriel Resnik, it was first produced on Broadway in 1964 , starring Sandy Dennis and Gene Hackman, and ran for 984 performances. It was a “sleeper” that turned into a little smash hit! The plot revolves around a prominent middle-aged businessman in New York City, John Cleves, who keeps a pretty young mistress secluded in an apartment that is actually owned by his company, much to the young woman’s dislike. Their arrangement is that he will visit her “every Wednesday” and spend the rest of the week with his wife. But this is growing old for the young woman, Ellen Gordon, and she is pushing for the commitment he has dangled before her: he will leave his wife and marry Ellen. Yeah, right. Like I said, 1964/2014, what has changed?
I had never read nor seen this play, or seen the movie based on it starring Jane Fonda and Jason Robards. I wasn’t sure what to expect, though, of course, I knew it was a comedy. I can state without reservation I was therefore, quite pleasantly surprised at the production mounted by Rover Dramawerks in Plano and directed by Carol Rice.
Ms. Rice’s artful direction moves the action at a wonderful, madcap pace, making use of the space to propel the action along. She made the decision to leave the story in the 60’s which worked very well and reminded the audience that the substance of the story is ageless. It is the theme which unfortunately seems to preserve through time: wealthy middle-age to older man, socially and/or financially powerful, manipulating a young, naïve, socially inexperienced woman who has become his mistress. On her end, she receives a free place to live and the somewhat nebulous idea that he will eventually leave his wife and marry her. Of course, it’s easy enough to guess early on that somehow this secret will be divulged to the unsuspecting wife and our middle-aged Romeo will have to put up or back out.
The action of the story flowed easily with no hiccups and made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The four actors made the concept of ensemble work come to like and all seemed comfortable in their characters physically, vocally and emotionally. Their portrayals were even and consistent and they played beautifully of one another, keeping the pace and energy at the level it needed for this play to keep the audience’s interest.
Mark Massey as John Cleves reminded me of the character of Richard Gere at the beginning of PRETTY WOMAN. Massey lets us know this character is a user. He’s not a lover or a giver but a rather ruthless businessman who rents his mistress’s apartment in the name of his company so he can take it as a “tax deduction.” Massey brilliantly underplays this character just enough to not come off as mean, but simply emotionless and pragmatic. He is comfortably at ease as Cleves and I could easily forget this was a role he was playing, his character seemed so natural.
The same was true of Lucia Welch as the unsuspecting, long ignored wife. She nailed the character of the busy society matron, redecorating, offering advice to the young couple she believes to be staying at the company apartment for business reasons. Welch seems truly sincere which is a perfect added dimension to a character who could come off as one dimensional but does not. When at last she has to face the truth of her husband’s dalliance, and while playing a game with his mistress she has inadvertently taken out for a birthday dinner, it is a priceless moment. Her look of final understanding isn’t overdone. Welch respects that sometimes less is more and her reaction is so real and perfect. You immediately just KNOW that SHE KNOWS. She brings her character so easily to life for the audience we want to practically stand up and cheer for her when she embraces the satisfaction of living her life outside the shadow of her manipulative husband.
Jade Reyes as Ellen Gordon, the pretty young woman kept by Cleves, fits the role physically to a T. She is young, lithe and enthusiastic, in stark contrast to her lover, Cleves, who visits her every Wednesday. As we see in the opening scene, he is somewhat emotionally dull compared to Ellen. Reyes is transparently naïve in her characterization, and appears to by truly with a man who is in the business of money and status and will never make the liaison a permanent commitment. As Ellen, Reyes is perky, kooky and believable. I know everyone wanted to just shake some sense into her-- “Girl, what were you thinkin’ ?”
Rounding out what becomes a madcap quartet is Eddy Herring as Cass Henderson, a young man whose company has been taken over and bought out by Cleves. He’s ready for a faceoff, but, instead, is mistaken for Ellen’s husband by Mrs. Cleves. The two are forced to go along with the mistake, Ellen desperately trying to avoid having Mrs. Cleves figure out who she is. Henderson’s character ends up in a gave of mix-up and mistakes and he finally realizes a bit late his attraction to Ellen, feeling she deserves so much more in a relationship than she is settling for. Henderson’s character is the mirror opposite of Cleves and he manages this superbly. He, too, begins at an easy pace, but grabs the tilt-a-whirl when called upon to step up and win fair lady, though towards the end, be becomes just a bit more frantic than is probably necessary. But that is a difficult emotion for actors to control, and his performances might have very just that tiny amount the night I saw it. But that is a tiny, tiny criticism, because overall, Herring’s performance was believable and energetic.
I want to add a word here about the Word Association Game the four actors “played”, especially when clapping to an established rhythm which picked up its pace as they went along. That was terribly important as a plot point and VERY difficult to pull off. Cudos to this ensemble, because it was flawless to your audience. Everyone’s attention was riveted on the four actors and we were almost holding out breath, I think, up to the final moment. Well done everyone!
The stage design was fine and served the action well but I would like to have seen more set décor that reflected the kookiness of Ellen’s character. And either I missed something, but I just couldn’t handle the pink walls. Reminded me of Shelby’s wedding colors in STEEL MAGNOLIAS --“blush and bashful”.
The costumes were priceless and very authentic-looking 60’s style! Loved the peignoirs Ellen wore, and Mrs. Cleves suits and her after-dinner dress were perfect.
Kelton Neals, the stage manager for the production, deserves recognition for being the only person who changed props and cleaned up after each scene in the dark. That was not easy but he carried it off without a hitch.
I’m only sorry that this very entertaining production closed the afternoon after we saw it. It was worth seeing a second time and not many shows can claim that honor! Congratulations and “Thank You” to cast and director for presenting an evening of real community theatre.
221 West Parker Road, Ste. 580
Plano, Texas 75023
Onstage January 10-26, 2019