28 January 2005: Rebeck, Bad Dates

Hartford Stage. Directed by Jeremy B. Coherr. A one-act play, with Annalee Jefferies. Ninety minutes without intermission.

A bravura role for the chameleon-like Jefferies, who can do and has done almost anything and everything. The word has evidently gotten around. Hartford Stage was jammed. A fan club, perhaps, or some special group ident­ifiable by their bright red hats cheered her on.

A woman with a twelve-year-old daughter (husband long gone) and a shoe fetish starts as a waitress in a New York restaurant and works her way up to managing it and raking off some of the proceeds to pay the taxes and send her daughter to a good school. It is a Romanian Mafia front for a long-term money-laundering operation, which Haley, the woman in quest­ion, is unconnected with but is inevitably compromised by. But this is the “back story,” as they now call it. The front story, so to speak, is Haley’s efforts to find a man from among the hordes of disappointing males who people the world. Jefferies has mastered the character and has also master­ed her predilections for changing clothes and shoes constantly. It is truly comic and very funny, and we find ourselves sympathizing with her plight while at the same time laughing at the monologue and Jefferies’ brilliant enhancement of it with much gesture, business, and constant by-play.

Jefferies comes in second to no one in her ability to hold an audience. I have seen her here at Hartford Stage several times, including her perform­ance of Blanche in Williams’s Streetcar and in the more recent festival of Williams one-act plays, all directed by the Hartford Stage artistic director Michael Wilson, whose favorite she most distinctly is.

So we have a nice audience pleaser by Theresa Rebeck, but not a very deep play, though it verges on some depth when Haley is stood up by a man who has rom­anced her and engaged her heart. We get the impression that, finally, there just aren’t any good men out there, even while we watch the ever-optim­istic Haley risk it all once again.

Finally I find myself impatient with the Hartford Stage enterprise at this point. They had to cancel What the Butler Saw because of “scheduling conflicts” — just what happens when you have no permanent company and are totally dependent on jobbing in whole productions. Now we have a one-person show, with a bang-up set and a fine performer but overall a month’s engagement during which no other performers’ salaries have to be paid. Granted, the season is not over; yet to come are Eduardo Machado’s The Cook, followed by Othello and the requisite Williams play, this time Cat on a Hot Tin Roof — all of it jobbed in. I don’t know how they are doing on subscriptions, but I do notice that the audience differs noticeably from show to show. Are we gaining insight here into the increasingly bleak realities of regional theatre in this country or into the particular problems of Hartford Stage? Overall, the quality of the offerings (though not the quality of production) has gone down noticeably since the days of Mark Lamos. Wilson is determined to do a mix of contemporary and classic plays, and that policy redounds to his credit; but the contemporary plays by and large are no match for the quality, the depth, the resonance of the classics. I can still see in my mind’s eye vivid images of Lamos’s produc­tions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Pericles and Hedda Gabler. I haven’t seen anything classic or contemporary in recent years to match the breath-taking heights of those productions. Wilson is a fine director, but it seems like an uphill struggle for him these days. Pity.


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An American Playgoer at Home by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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