PROPOSALSby Neil Simon
Director - Evelyn Davis
Asst. Director/Stage Manager - Laurie Grissom
Set Designer/Decorator - Judy Bauman Blalock
Master Carpenter - Vince Connor
Properties Designer - Laurie Grissom
Costume Designer - Patsy Daussat
Sound Designer - Matthew Crawley
Lighting Designer - Emily-Ann Moriarty-Phillips
Clemma Diggins - La’Netia D Taylor
Burt Hines - John Grissom
Josie Hines - Emily-Ann Moriarty-Phillips
Ken Norman - Quinn Angell
Ray Dolenz - Mitchell Doerr
Annie Robbins - Cathy Parks Bardin
Vinnie Bavasi - Zane Rivas
Sammii - Kate Beckett
Lewis Barnett - Ronnie Hunter
Understudy - Patsy Daussat
Reviewed Performance: 9/27/2019
Reviewed by Rebecca Roberts, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Told from the perspective of Clemma Diggins – who is more family member than housekeeper – PROPOSALS recounts Burt Hines’ final summer in the Poconos with his daughter Josie. The play concentrates on one very eventful day in 1954. And as the plot is fairly minimal, the focus is instead on introducing us to a host of interesting and dynamic characters – several of which easily steal the show with their colorful accents and mannerisms.
Director Evelyn Davis warns the audience in her director note that this is a memory play, and to expect an idealized image instead of a realistic portrayal…which is as it should be. Unfortunately, every element of the production was almost too realistic – the harsh lights, the realistic cabin surrounded by dead leaves and plants, the subdued and simplified costumes. There was just a complete lack of haze through which these memories were being recalled, and did not meet the “memory play” qualifications in any sense, except those dictated in characters’ dialogue.
Patsy Daussat acted as costume designer for this production. While she was fairly successful in conveying time period with her designs, I believe that Daussat missed the mark on conveying the proper tone. I would have so preferred seeing the bright and vibrant colors one might associate with the 1950s (think MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL in the Catskills). While a realistic portrayal of this era might have included the more subdued colors that Daussat did, this is a memory play. Memory is subjective, and there is a reason that Clemma looks back on this day with such a fond remembrance. And the costumes could have been a wonderful design element to tie into that idealism on which the production is supposedly based.
Matthew Crawley’s house music was so excellent, peppered with period advertisements that made it sound like you were truly listening to an actual 1950s radio station. I wish this sound design had continued once the show started. The lack of ambient sound was somewhat off-putting, since the entire production takes place outdoors. Meanwhile, Emily-Ann Moriarty-Phillips’ lighting design merely varied from off, to bright, to super bright. I was never quite sure when it was supposed to be day or night. And the harsh brightness, again, made the production feel less like a hazy memory and more like a brightly lit examination room. Lighting design is a wonderful opportunity to transport your audience, and that is just not what happened in this production.
The set hit the mark a little closer, with designs by Judy Bauman Blalock. The pink cabin in the woods was delightful. And having flats on either of the stage painted with surreal trees and mountains was an excellent touch. Unfortunately, the luncheon setup at the top of act two used folding chairs and a table that did not fit the era at all, which I found pretty distracting. But overall, the set was very enchanting and a lovely scene to walk into, upon entering the theatre.
With a runtime of three hours, I definitely think there are performances within the production that could use a bit more polish. The lagging dialogue and lack of urgency in all of the scenes made both the comedic and emotional moments fall short. And while all of the dialogue was delivered with great inflection by almost all of the actors, there was just an overall lack of motivation. That said, I saw the production on opening night, and there is definitely plenty of time for the actors to tighten up their performances, now that they are getting laughter and energy from audiences attending the show.
La’Netia D Taylor as Clemma Diggins hit every comedic and emotional mark beautifully. She spoke with an almost lyrical tone – an ideal characteristics for the play’s storyteller. But while Taylor’s inflections were impeccable, a lot of her performance was very surface level and missed some much needed motivation behind her dialogue and actions. Regardless, her animated eyes and comedic delivery was more than enough to keep the audience engaged in the story she was telling.
Jewish father Burt Hines, as played by John Grissom, is simply adorable. Poking his head out of swinging doors and windows, and eavesdropping on his daughter’s love life – his endearing performance made him exactly the lovable character he needed to be. Alongside Grissom is Cathy Parks Bardin as ex-wife Annie Robbins. Bardin’s speaking voice is straight out of a 1950’s TV sitcom. And her charming but despondent attitude made the mother/daughter conflicts throughout the show very believable.
Emily-Ann Moriarty-Phillips played daughter Josie Hines. While her comedic delivery is effective at the top of the show, it begins to feel very stagnant and unvaried as the performance continues. Unfortunately, her modern inflections and facial expressions just didn’t fit well with the show’s overall feel. Josie has several potential love interests over the course of the play, and Mitchell Doerr as Ray Dolenz was easily the most charming. I found his frustrations with Josie and his inner conflict about his true feelings for her to be very appealing. And while there isn’t much onstage chemistry between Moriarty-Phillips and Doerr, I was still delighted to see them end up together at the closing of the show.
Standout performances were from Zane Rivas as Vinnie Bavasi and Kate Beckett as Sammii. Both actors livened the stage with their presence, and the audience just unequivocally loved them. From the moment Rivas walked onstage, without even saying a word, we were hooked. His brilliant physical mannerisms, facial expressions, and comedic timing are truly spot on. Somebody put on a production of JERSEY BOYS so Rivas can put this very specific character type to work again. And Beckett is perfectly adorable, with a delightful accent to boot.
Neil Simon’s dialogue is hilarious and the featured performers alone are enough to keep you thoroughly entertained. If you like unlikely circumstances, eccentric characters, and the 1950s, support local theatre and go see Runway Theatre’s production of PROPOSALS.
215 N. Dooley Street
Grapevine, TX 76051
Plays through October 13th.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 3:00 pm.
Tickets range from $19-22.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.runwaytheatre.com or call their box office at 817-488-4842.