The Beautiful People

By William Saroyan
Directed by Kricker James
The Greenwich Street Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Marshall Yaeger

This terminally wistful play was like watching a rambunctious but cute child: sometimes tedious; awfully hard not to like. The actors played with the whimsy, but sometimes choked when the speeches got too serious.

Max Faugno, an actor in his 20s, with remarkably supple face and emotions, dominated the proceedings -- which should have belonged to his father's character -- by hyperactively doing everything but act his age, which was supposed to be 15. It was impossible not to watch Faugno while he played the boy just a tad short of nine. Would he topple the table on which he sat akimbo? Would he stand on his head or crawl on the floor reading the Saturday Evening Post? Was he mentally challenged?

Brandee Graff played his relentlessly affectionate sister who would suddenly run outside to chase a mouse -- or was it really a boy she fell for whom was never seen and whom the author never lets her find?

Munro Bonnell as the soap-box orator and kooky father of the brood did his best against all odds with speeches constantly punctuated by weird ejaculations, such as "Pole star and pyramid!" or "Spectacles and satellites!"

Jim Siatkowski was hilarious trying to talk while ignoring a mouse crawling up and down inside his clothes. Frank Natasi, playing an elderly man, suddenly got sad and real during a heartfelt speech about people getting old.

Michael Hobbs as the local clergyman, understanding to the core, settled comfortably into his role; but Frank Bradley barely walked on at the end (along with Brian Van Flandern, another walk-on). Bradley sounded the play's leitmotif on the cornet off-stage throughout the play, but never quite got the first note right.

The director defined and paced his characters well, but sometimes went too far pursuing whimsy. Why did tiny Christmas lights flash on when someone pointed at a tree outside the window, then just as abruptly go off?

The lighting by Scott Clyve and set design by Bill Kneissl conspired to create a bright and comfortable San Francisco house. And the costumed look by Meganne George right down to the stockings of 1941 was really good. The hat she placed on Blainie Logan's head as she played an elderly woman -- who might have been the mother of them all, so far as the author deigned to reveal -- was something special.

It was nice that the Chain Lightning Theatre reminded us 55 years later how some writers thought people could survive the Depression through warmth, charm, and goodness. As their universe was sliding into war and holocaust, Anne Frank, a younger, braver author than this one, was about to write a similar message in her diary about people being basically good.

One thinks of her often, and needs no reminding

Box Score:
Writing 2
Directing 2
Acting 1
Set 2
Costumes 2
Lighting/Sound 2
Copyright 1996 Marshall Yaeger

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