Ruby and Pearl: A Class Act

By Laurence Holder
Directed by Rome Neal
Theatre for the New City
Equity showcase (Closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

The idea was attractive: the adventures of two cresting-the-hill burlesque floozies, Ruby and Pearl, one black, one Caucasian; the one with hardened heart of gold, the other suffering mid-life crisis. Will they maintain their stripper's honorable "tradition"? Or will they swallow their pride and do that little extra to make the "carnivores" happy? Alas, the execution was half-hearted.

The award-winning author was aided and abetted here by the director's lack of attention to detail, which, in a play about show-biz glitz, can be fatal. So many funny things went wrong in this production one never quite knew how to laugh. Could Ruby really not get her dress to zip? Did Sally's twirling glove really get stuck in the scenery? Was it all a bad night?

Or a bad dream? What was the ensemble trying to do when things suddenly tilted toward expressionism, with outlandish masks, startling lights, a saxophone gone crazy, and carnivorous expressions? (It should be noted that the theatre offers classes in mask-making. But also that "Lowlife" and "Mr. Big" were names of characters.)

The author composed a few snappy lines ("So fresh off the tree he can't peel a banana"; "Stop acting like a size two") and some hoary advice ("You can't make deals with the devil") interspersed by much chatter and a few tedious monologues.

The actors, shrewdly cast to type, included Arlana Blue, playing Pearl, working her talents way too hard, constantly twisting her face into cranky contortions. For a burlesque queen, she had (pace John Simon) a figure that probably wouldn't rotate anyone's crank more than once. (True to the clumsiness of the production, her breasts fell out of their cups a few times. It wasn't erotic.)

Ruby took the night off and was replaced by understudy Kathryn Chilson, who phoned in a lot of the action but nicely displayed a body of death, real tears, and dancing talent.

But it was Sally, played by Julie L. Adams, who stole the show (it was no felony) -- too miraculously transforming, between a mere two scenes, not only her costume but her Pollyanna character into a Gypsy Rose Lee.

John DiBenedetto did a fine job playing an adorable ape: a former prize-fighter with a charming stutter. Jerry Jaffe and Theo Polites played villains, almost twirling mustaches.

The badly managed lights, designed by Zdenek Kriz, like the stuttering records that ruined Ruby & Pearl's "Class Act" (twice!), had minds of their own, turning up or down seemingly at will.

Ani Blackburn tried hard with the sets, and they showed some humor and imagination.

Thus the burlesque tradition lives on until January 21st at the Theatre for the New City, so the director said at the end; or even beyond that date "if you tell your friends."

Box Score:
Writing 1 Directing 1 Acting 1 Set 1 Costumes 1 Lighting/Sound 0 Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger
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