PILLOW TALKAdapted by Christopher Sergel
Based on the Screenplay by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin
Story by Russell Rouse and Clarence Green
Garland Civic Theatre
Artistic Director: Kyle McClaran
Underwriter: Dr. Lisa Garner
Director: Evelyn Davis
Stage Manager: Gregory Phillips
Assistant Stage Manager: Matthew Crawley
Set Design: Joseph Cummings
Costume Design: Celeste Rogers
Light Design: Donna Covington
Carpenter: Curt Stiles
Properties: Evelyn Davis
Program: Celeste Rogers
Board Operators: Matt Higgins and Richard Stephens
Web Master: Perry Brown
Publicity and Photography: Celeste Rogers
Jan Morrow: Kim Cicio
Jonathan Forbes: Gregory Phillips
Brad Allen: Joe Dunn
Alma: Janye Anderson
Miss Pierot: Samantha Labrada
Mrs. Walters/Bessie: Sue Higgins
Tony Walters/Policeman/Detective Graham: Jeremy Gaydosh
Miss Dickenson/Marie: Courtney Murphy
Eileen: Meredith Moore
Yvette/Mrs. Frost-Ames/Operator: Drusilla Blakey
Mr. Conrad: Jay Hardy
Reviewed Performance: 10/8/2011
Reviewed by Ashlea Palladino, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Christopher Sergel adapted the 1959 film for the stage and his version sticks very closely to the original screenplay ? fans of the film won't notice too many deviations. There are dozens of things that make Pillow Talk a charming movie - the innocence and modesty of 1959, the period clothing, Doris Day singing "Roly Poly" in a jazz club, Tony Randall's intensely effeminate portrayal of Hudson's best friend/Day's suitor, etc. - and most of that charm translates well for the stage version. Innovative set and costume designers can without question recreate elements of this era but the most important facet of the story is the chemistry between the two lead characters, Jan Morrow and Brad Allen. This was the prevailing reason Garland Civic's production failed to meet the bar.
I really, really, REALLY must learn not to read playbill bios prior to watching a show. My eye was immediately drawn to the bio of Kim Cicio who played Jan Morrow, and then directly across the page to the bio of Joe Dunn who played Brad Allen. Looking solely at their photos and without reading a lick of their information, I instantly questioned the casting of the leading roles as there seemed to be a considerable age difference between Ms. Cicio and Mr. Dunn. Reading the bios confirmed this suspicion as Mr. Dunn's information listed his high school acting participation, as well as the note that Pillow Talk was "his first production in live theater."
For his first time on stage, Mr. Dunn showed strong potential in that he was confident and prepared. He didn't drop lines; he seemed to meet his marks, and even flirted with the audience a little bit. Mr. Dunn was saddled with playing two distinct roles: Brad Allen and Rex Stetson, Allen's Texan alter ego. While I'd never really thought about it before, it must be difficult for a Texan to play a Texan ? drawing out the stereotypical caricature of the grinning "aw shucks" cowboy and what not. Mr. Dunn did an adequate job with both characters, but he seemed to have some trouble switching between them in that he sometimes retained his overstated drawl even when not wearing Rex's cowboy hat, the telltale physical difference between Brad and Rex. One other aspect lacking in Mr. Dunn's performance was the seemingly lackadaisical manner with which he approached being in trouble. The rakish Brad Allen was stone-cold busted by his lady friends in a couple of different scenes but Mr. Dunn maintained calm and cool instead of panicked and anxious, which are more natural responses.
Ms. Cicio was very striking on stage and carried herself with determination and poise. She was believable as an interior decorator, as a friend, and as a boss. She was also believable during some of her telephone arguments with Brad. When she was face to face with Brad/Rex, however, I was not able to suspend disbelief well enough to buy into any actual feelings between Ms. Cicio and Mr. Dunn. The two best scenes of the play were the last two scenes of the play because Ms. Cicio and Mr. Dunn showed true, raw emotion in these final moments. They were screaming at each other, Ms. Cicio was jumping around on her couch, and she was honestly indignant when Mr. Dunn tossed her over his shoulder for their trip back to his apartment. Likewise, Mr. Dunn was animated and intense when they reached his apartment and he dumped Ms. Cicio down on his newly-redecorated sofa. If only the production could've begun as strongly as it finished.
In addition to my not being sold by the lead performances, I was confused for much of the show by the staging, and by some technical aspects that were difficult to pinpoint. Joseph Cummings built a beautiful, detailed set that consisted of a feminine, colorful apartment for Jan Morrow, and a more angular, monochromatic apartment for Brad Allen. Both suites were lovely, but there was one inescapable problem - the apartments were too large for this stage. Fleshing out such large living spaces for both characters, while totally understandable, prevented Mr. Cummings from bringing in believable vignettes for the jazz club, the telephone company office, or even the pay phone through which so much action occurred. Eileen, former paramour of Brad and current jazz club chanteuse, played by Meredith Moore, was directed to sing from the slightly elevated floor of Jan's apartment. Again, suspending disbelief became more difficult as the show progressed.
Director Evelyn Davis brought in an element for this production that I'd not seen before in a GCT show - a screen with projected images upon it. The screen was cleverly placed between two panels of fabric to mimic a window, and the images themselves were, appropriately, what you might see outside of a New York City window. While this is a detail, it bears noting that some of the images showed daytime scenes even when we knew it to be evening based on the characters' dialogue. Further, the jazz club singer, Eileen, was doing her thing but a few paces from this "window" in Jan's apartment; more confusion.
Lighting is an element that can make or break a performance, and it's sadly taken for granted when it's good. I can't decide if the lighting cues were off - utterly off - for this performance, or whether Lighting Designer Donna Covington just had a unique vision for what might work with this story and this set. Regardless, the result was mostly shadows and little light. I found myself squinting to see the actors more often than not. It was so bad at one point in Act 2 that Ms. Cicio ad-libbed a joke about rolling blackouts. I sincerely hope the lighting component is one that can be remedied for future performances.
OK, the preceding 1,300 words were painful! Let's move on to the stuff that was good?and even some stuff that was great. Ms. Davis's playbill information noted her pleasure in getting to utilize many of her family's personal treasures and items of clothing for this play - genuine articles from the 1950's. I don't know which items were from Ms. Davis's collection and which items were procured by Mr. Cummings and Costume Designer Celeste Rogers, but suffice it to say that all props and the majority of the costumes were loads of fun. Ms. Cicio wore the most striking costumes, all of which fit her perfectly and were well-suited to her character's profession.
Pillow Talk really wouldn't work without the support of two characters: Alma and Jonathan Forbes (played in the film by Academy Award Nominee Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall, respectively). Janye Anderson played Alma, Jan's tipsy housekeeper, and what a bright spot she was. It was apparent that Alma could've done a little more cleaning and a little less eavesdropping, but the character was wholly endearing ? we didn't really care what she did as long as she came back on stage. Ms. Anderson's facial expressions were particularly entertaining, especially whilst being argumentative or rebellious which was most of the time.
I believe most productions are group efforts and that the group as a whole contributes to a show's successes and failures. I rarely note a single performance that makes the show worth seeing on its own, let alone a supporting performance, but Greg Phillips's turn as Jonathan Forbes was exactly that - a show saver. From the moment he knocked on Jan's door and entered her apartment with his goofy little waddle it was clear Mr. Phillips (who also served as Stage Manager) was going to leave an impression. His characterization of Jonathan Forbes was spot on in every way, including the less-than-macho way he phrased his words, and the speed with which he delivered his lines. I laughed out loud several times after a particularly humorous expression or physical bit, and Mr. Phillips's speed walk across the stage before the final scene garnered the biggest audience laugh of the night.
Pillow Talk is a clever, happy story with lots of potential for creative staging, costuming and even music. While Garland Civic Theatre's production didn't pass muster in most areas, the performances of two of the actors, combined with intriguing props and costumes from the 1950's, prevented the show from being a total snoozer.
Garland Civic Theatre at the Granville Arts Center
300 N. 5th Street, Garland, TX 75040-6352
Runs through October 29th
Shows are Thursday at 7:30pm (10/13 only), Fridays & Saturdays
at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm, & a Saturday matinee at 2:30pm (10/29 only).
Tickets range in price from $18 to $22 and may be purchased by calling the box office at 972-205-2790.