BWW Reviews: Crockarell Shines in SAY GOODNIGHT, GRACIE at Street Theatre Company
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by Jeffrey Ellis
Set in 1976, Ralph Pape's Say Goodnight, Gracie deftly blends wistful nostalgia with tinges of regret that always tend to surface when you're faced with a high school reunion. And smoking pot; smoking pot makes anything seem more complex and redolent with hidden meaning and deeper regret than when you're thinking about them straight. I say this from personal experience. I did not, however, inhale.
Directed with his requisite easy-going style and even-handEd Manner by Paul Cook, the new production of Pape's play-which originated off-Broadway in 1978 before being staged by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theare in 1979 with a cast that included John Malkovich and Joan Allen-now onstage at Street Theatre Company is distinguished by the performances of Cook's ensemble of actors and their ability to create a convivial, collegial air of bonhomie onstage. That, of course, requires them to "mimic," if you will, the state in which one finds oneself high on some really killer weed and the actors acquit themselves admirably.
Pape's five characters-whom the playwright calls members of the "first television generation"-are gathered in the New York apartment of Jerry and Ginny ahead of their New Jersey high school reunion, which gives them the opportunity to reminisce about faded glories and the embarrassing events of their teenaged years, the hopes denied and the dreams delayed.
It is the universality of their shared story that makes Pape's script continue to work today; sure, times have changed, but for the most part people haven't changed all that much (even if now, as always, younger people tend to think they are experiencing life's ups and downs for the very first time ever). As a result, you're likely to see yourself or someone you know and love among the five characters who, thanks to that pot-inspired conversation, share so much more than homecoming memories during the one act play's hour and 45 minutes (be advised: go pee before the show starts).
Jeremy Maxwell plays Jerry, the aspiring actor whose goals are far loftier than his talents, and his character fares far less successfully than the others because there's not a lot about Jerry that makes him likable. He's a self-absorbed, self-obsessed and self-important jerk, for the most part, for whom overacting is so much more than something to do onstage. Maxwell, usually remarkably refreshing onstage, doesn't have much to work with character-wise, so he pales in comparison with the other characters who are more accessible and less priggish.
Melissa Silengo is delightful as Jerry's long-suffering girlfriend Ginny, whose high-flying attempts to tell a story from her childhood are constantly interrupted by the other friends in the conversation. Looking as if she could play Mary Richards' downstairs neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom in a dramatic reenactment of scripts from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (now there's an idea for you), she captures that 1970s je nai se quoi with charm and dead-on accuracy.
As deft a physical comedian as you're going to find on a Nashville stage, Alan Smith mines the depths of his character actor-driven self to give a fully fleshed out performance as Steve, Jerry's high school chum who dreams of becoming a television writer, but whose penchant for the realities of fantasy tend to fuel his outlandish stories.
As the third member of Jerry and Steve's stoogedom, Ryan Williams gives a terrific performance as Bobby, the third-rate rock star whose adventures fill his other friends with barely contained envy of his supposed celebrity and jealousy of his ability to score the really good grass and to lay the sexiest chicks. As has become his onstage bent, Williams creates a characterization with a laconic grace that is at once believable and surprising.
But it's really Laura Crockarell who commands your attention from her first entrance and holds you rapt until her final exit, as Bobby's stewardess girlfriend Catherine. Dripping studied nonchalance and the incumbent glamor of her high-flying career, Catherine is the play's most multi-dimensional character and Crockarell makes the most of her time onstage to create a memorable portrayal. You'll want to see her again-onstage or off-, I promise.
Pape creates a setting and characters that are easy to identify with, but the script's talkiness very nearly drives you to distraction-I found myself losing interest after the first 90 minutes, allowing my mind to wander during the last 15 minutes, wondering how in the hell the playwright was going to wrap things up, not so much because I gave a shit, but primarily because I wanted a drink. Or a toke. Take your pick.
Steven Steele creates the perfect setting for Say Goodnight, Gracie, bringing the 1970s design aesthetic-in all its brown, orange and tan glory, plus there's a shag rug-and he illuminates the set with his trademark style. Lynda Cameron Bayer dresses the actors in appropriately hideous fashion of that misbegotten era, which no doubt gives the actors some added inspiration for creating their characters (who, in retrospect, kind of look like the cast of a porno, circa 1976-only there's no wood paneling).
- Say Goodnight, Gracie. By Ralph Pape. Directed by Paul Cook. Presented by Street Theatre Company, 1933 Elm Hill Pike, Nashville. Through June 24. For details, go to www.streettheatrecompany.org; for tickets, call (615) 554-7414.