Shady lady

Lady ChardonnEy

Written by Jim Gibson and Julio Tumbaco
Directed by Jason Brantman
Theatre Row’s Studio Theatre
410 West 42nd St., 212-279-4200
Equity showcase (through February 11)
Review by Michael D. Jackson

In Gibson and Tumbaco’s new comedy Lady ChardonnEy, the title character is a second rate cabaret singer who has hooked up with an ex-mobster turned artist. Played with reckless abandon by Dee Spencer, ChardonnEy opens the play with a comical cabaret turn. There is no sense that anyone is in the audience watching her act, but ChardonnEy operates on a delusional plane and believes she is a star nonetheless. Her new boyfriend Sam (Drake Andrew) shows up late and an extended argument ensues, revealing that he is not really separated from his ex-wife after all. This launches what seems to be a play about a divorced man starting life a new, while he deals with the life problems that come with leaving his old family to start a new marriage. ChardonnEy insists that she and Sam not have sex until they are married - a hook to ensure that Sam finalizes his divorce and actually marries her. Sam is not eager to remarry quickly as he has secrets he is afraid to reveal, but after months of wear and tear, the couple finally ties the knot.
It is here, nearly two-thirds into the play, that the real story begins. Each character has a major secret to reveal, but the power the twists and turns of the plot are meant to have aren’t earned; they seem tacked-on, taking the play in a completely different, more serious direction for the sake of sensationalism. While the element of surprise might have been lessened, had the subject of the final third of the play been laced through the plot from the beginning, it might have been intriguing to watch ChardonnEy try to negotiate her relationship with Sam, considering her particular circumstances.
The most engaging scene is a very realistic showdown between Sam and his ex-wife Cheryl (Elka Rodriguez), who grapple with domestic issues of child support and custody. While the scene is well-acted and stands out in contrast to the broad acting and gag-filled scenes preceding it, the drama begun here is not followed through and there is no resolution. Dee Spencer fits the role of ChardonnEy well, exuding a properly comic demeanor, but never seems grounded as the real person underneath her phony exterior.
Jason Brantman’s direction is curious, shifting moods with jarring contrasts. An extended prologue of a waitress setting up the bar for the evening has no evidence of storytelling and is useless to the play, a set change in the middle of the play is cumbersome and the transition from comedy to drama is not easy. The play, for all its many funny moments, colorful characters and good central idea, ends up as a mess of styles and lacks unification of all the theatrical elements.

Box Score:


Writing: 1
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2007 Michael D. Jackson 


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