That playwright and director David Epstein has written and staged his new (well, newish) play, Midnight, a harkening back to the ’30s comedies of George S. Kaufman et al rather than the prototype of David Mamet, is praiseworthy. It almost doesn’t matter that the play trips on its own feet almost as often as it scores, as it’s a knowing, fun tribute to its ancestors. And the gods of casting smiled broadly when the two female roles were offered -- Kathleen Wallace essentially picked up the play in her extraordinarily capable arms and ran with it, and Elizabeth Horn took her ludicrous character so seriously that she was the cause of several belly laughs.
Epstein has set his play in the 1950s seemingly because he wanted to include a Brando/Dean-like character (as a writer rather than a Strasberg devotee), and he gets in some zingers at the expense of the pretentiousness of Method style of acting (Theo is a British hotel butler who’s really an actor from Brooklyn who makes a splash playing a Scotsman Off-Off-Broadway), but the show-business milieu is stuck in the ’30s. Evelyn (Wallace), assistant to needs-a-hit director Jimmy Halloway (Jeff Galfer), has to sort out her own life as well as everyone else’s. Tony Simpolini (Nicholas Warren-Gray) is the writer who sneaks into the penthouse to get his script to Halloway yet belies his name and demeanor by turning out to be a talented playwright, and Kathleen decides to be his champion. There are gangsters, Hasids, quarrels, misunderstandings, and it’s all directed according to the model of Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday -- talk fast, move fast, don’t let the farce slow down long enough to be paid attention to. Which is exactly right, but once the farce’s seams start to show, it can only be kept aloft by a talented cast.
So although Theo (Gerry Lehane) has a speech about how in the future theater will be, oh, hideously expensive, or corporate-sponsored (sure it’s funny, but it almost completely derails the play), the saving grace that was Wallace with one sharp look, or quick retort, restored balance, order and purpose. Or when Horn as Florence, the loud, vulgar gangster’s moll, looked around at her surroundings, examined her nails, and was naturally and effortlessly funny as she looked out at, well, nothing -- or turned a line as innocuous as “Harvey, don’t he look just like Zorro?” into a gem of screeching non-sequitur -- then enough goodwill was spread around to cover the lumps.
On the small longer-than-it-is-deep stage configuration, the uncredited set did its best to seem the Ritz penthouse, but Jason J. Rainone’s lighting did wonders approximating external windows and weather. The costumes that consultant Michael Bevins assembled appropriately gilded the Wallace and Horn lilies. Those two made the play very nearly seem to matter.
Also with Jesse Gavin, Rob Armstrong, Dan Patrick Brady, Douglas Goodrich.
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Copyright 2005 David Mackler