A Comic Gem


Expressing Willie


Written by Rachel Crothers

Directed by Christine Mosere

Produced by Woman Seeking… (http://www.womanseeking.org)

The West End Theatre

263 West 86th Street

Tickets: 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com

Equity showcase (through April 22)

Review by Judd Hollander


Truth, finding one’s inner faith and having the courage to act it out are the central themes in this absolutely brilliant production of Rachel Crothers' 1924 comic gem Expressing Willie, as presented by Woman Seeking


A Long Island mansion during the Roaring Twenties is the home of Willie Smith (Dan Jacoby) who fled his one-horse Texas town for the excitement of New York and became a millionaire magnate in the toothpaste business. Willie dreams of being welcomed into New York cultural society (where telling the truth and expressing one’s inner desires seems to be the fad of the moment), figuring that with enough money, they’ll have to accept him. On this particular weekend he has invited over painter Taliaferro (Rhonda Ayers - a brilliant, over the top performance that has echoes of Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn); husband and wife George and Dolly Cadwalader (Michael Frederic and Wynne Anders); and Frances Sylvester (Simone Lazer), a divorcee who has designs on Willie (and his millions), feelings Willie happily reciprocates. 


However, Willie’s plain-talking, no-nonsense mother (Ann Parker, in a very good earthy and comic turn) sees Frances as little more than a fortune hunter and, unbeknownst to Willie, invites Minnie Whitcomb (Maria Silverman, pulling double duty also as the musical arranger), his old girlfriend from Texas, to spend the weekend and hopefully talk some sense into him.


What on the surface seems to be a standard fish out of water tale is turned, thanks to Crothers’ capable hands (as well as the work of director Christine Mosere), into something else entirely. At first completely overwhelmed, Millie hears these people talking about the need to let one’s inner self break free, and takes this to heart which carries her from the depths of despair to the center of attention when, playing the piano, she realizes she has talent she never knew existed. Now possessing this gift of clarity and ready to embark on a new career (with the enthusiastic help of Taliaferro), she first tries to get Willie to see his own truth. However Willie and the rest of the group are somewhat unprepared to deal with such absolutes, and the consequences (and responsibilities) which may result. This is a prevalent theme in Crothers' works.


The entire cast is wonderful. In addition to the afore-mentioned Ayers and Parker, high marks go to Silverman as the charmingly naive Millie, and to Jacoby, who gives his character a nice combination of desperation and drab. Anders is amusing as Mrs. Cadwalader, who has a rather interesting relationship with her husband; while Frederic works well as her somewhat henpecked, devoid of ambition, dependable and loving spouse. (It’s also the most stereotypical role in the piece, but Frederic does an able job with it.) Also in the cast is Niko Ruwe, making his theatrical debut with aplomb.

Credit must go to Jessa-Raye Court’s brilliant costumes - some of which are quite flamboyant, but work well for the characters, and Brandon Giles’ sparse, but quite workable set. 


The only bit of miscasting occurs with assisting director Akiva Penaloza playing a male servant. While this decision may have been made to give a member of the company an acting role, casting a female as a male in this role takes away from the authenticity of the piece. But this is a minor quibble in an otherwise great production. Woman Seeking… is to be commended not only for taking an unappreciated play (and mostly forgotten author) and presenting it to a new generation, but also for making this 83-year-old work seem fresh and new.

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

Copyright 2007 Judd Hollander

Return to Volume Thirteen, Number Four Index

Return to Volume Thirteen Index

Return to Home Page