A princely play

Prince Hal

By Bennett Windheim
Directed by Elysabeth Kleinhans
Animated Theatreworks
45th St. Theatre
354 W. 45th St. (212/221-8466)
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 29)
Review by Charles Battersby

 In a time when religious intolerance is considered a bad thing, Prince Hal manages to make bigotry hysterical. Set in the late '50s, Prince Hal is the story of Hal "Heshie" Feinman, a Jew born in Brighton Beach who moves to Manhattan to become a Broadway publicist. Ten years later, when Hal returns to the old neighborhood to attend a friend's wedding, he brings his Christian "shiksa" girlfriend with him. Hal's old friends aren't pleased, and this sets off a hilarious first act that turns unexpectedly deep by the time the second act dawns.

Bennett Windheim's script has fun skewering both the Jews and the gentiles in his first act. Never more so than a discussion of religious conversion between Hal (Bruce Sabath) and the aforementioned shiksa, Bernice (Deborah Ludwig), in scene 3. This scene is nothing short of a double-barreled shotgun blast of hysterical blasphemy aimed at both the Old and the New Testaments (Mmmm ... Sacra-licious). Despite the fun, Prince Hal is told in a realistic tone and addresses its issues seriously most of the time. The second act shifts 11 years into the future and leaves behind most of the humor. With a focus on decaying relationships and paths not taken, Windheim makes a drastic change in both the play's tone and its time period. The change feels natural as it comes, but the issue of Jew vs. gentile is almost entirely thrown out the window by the end of the play.

The cast was uniformly excellent, perfectly chosen for their roles, with most of them affecting Brooklyn Jewish accents so thick you could cut 'em with a knife (In fact you'd need a machete to cut Diane Landers's accent). Also, the play switched from the 1950s to the 1960s in Act II, and the entire cast aged those 11 years almost magically.

Director Elysabeth Kleinhans had a chore before her in recreating both time periods in one play. This difficult task was marvelously accomplished on all fronts. Under Kleinhans's guidance, every production element was sculpted to suit both time periods. The costumes (Barbara Korein) were dead on target, and far above the vintage-store bargain bin that so often passes for period costumes Off-Off-Broadway. The soundtrack (Scott O'Brien) was filled with oldies that even the oldies stations haven't played in ten years and took the listener right back to '69, when the Monkeys were struggling to be taken seriously as musicians.

The set, by Lea Umberger, was a bit sparse. Standard table and chairs, with the innovation of two doorways on wheels. But the entire back wall (20 feet high!) was covered with a titanic scrim. During scenes set in Brighton Beach, the shadows of Coney Island amusement park rides were projected on it, while in Manhattan the shadows of the Chrysler Building and other skyscrapers were seen. It was a monumental achievement for both the set designer and the lighting designer (John Michael Deegan).

Prince Hal is a remarkable production for all involved and certainly destined for greater things when the current run ends.

(Also featuring Marc Geller, Simon Feil, Donna Dimino, and Jennifer Jiles.)

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby