Fondly remembered

A Builder of Dreams

By Melba La Rose, Jr.
Directed by Anita Brown
Montauk Theatre Productions
Shooting Star Theatre
40 Peck Slip, South Street Seaport (closes April 30) 791-STAR
Equity showcase
Review by Sheila Mart

A Builder of Dreams is an affectionate tribute to Myrtle Evelyn Lawrence, performed by her granddaughter Melba La Rose, Jr. It is essentially a one-woman show, with admirable assistance from Tamer Tewfik, who provided piano and singing accompaniment, and Hallie Wynn, who doubled as stage manager and actress.

The show opens with Melba sitting on a trunk, not "in the Princess Theatre" as the famous Judy Garland song says, but in her apartment. The trunk was sent to her by a relative who felt it belonged to her; it also served as a perfectly theatrical yet personal opening for a remembrance of a much-loved relative. As Melba retrieves various items - costumes, sheet music, jewelry, some from the trunk and others (for practical staging reasons) hanging upstage - she comments on Myrtle's life of 70 years (1893-1963) through dialogue, songs representative of each era, and some quite lyrical poetry written by Myrtle and emotionally delivered by Melba.

It is a sentimental piece - human, but not cloying. As with most family histories, there are probably gaps that the granddaughter is unable to fill; and it seemed as a result that superfluous scenes were added to maintain the theatricality - a fix that didn't work but instead just lengthened the piece too much. The old adage of "do less" should be a consideration here. Two examples of excess were a tap routine (which could possibly be cut) and a letter-typing scene, which was repetitive.

(Perhaps it would be better to explain Margaret Sanger's real role in the history of women's freedom during these years. While there was a reference to the horror of butchered abortions - illegal at that time - there was no mention of Ms. Sanger's real mission for women - planned parenthood. This is a historical point which could be clarified.)

The standard of production was polished, and it was smoothly directed by Anita Brown - not an easy achievement. Melba LaRose, Jr. was a charming performer. Tewfik provided an excellent piano (synthesizer) accompaniment, but his singing was not in the same league as Melba's. Wynn was to be highly congratulated on her stage-managing role, especially given the number of props and costumes she was required to handle.

Jennifer Grambs and Frances Eldred did a difficult yet commendable job on the costumes. Francis J. Roach's choreography in such a small space was miraculously effective. Greg Steinmetz's lighting was mostly effective, as was Elson de Faria's necessarily sparse set.

This is a piece that appeals to older audiences and also holds historical significance for young people - especially women.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Sheila Mart