note: Entire contents copyright 2004 by A. S. Waterman
Reviewed by A.S. Waterman
Brenda.....Alicia Marie Rivera
Written by Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna
Directed by Martin Raymond
Produced by Matt Siravo
As summer (very slowly) comes to Rhode Island, our thoughts turn to the City by the Sea and its many entertainment options. The Web site of The Newport Playhouse and Cabaret Restaurant proudly proclaims "Dinner theatre at its best," a notion bound to pique a reviewer's curiosity, especially as dinner theater has often gotten a bad rap in this part of New England. Yet some groups do dinner theater extremely well, and The Newport Playhouse does that and more.
From the moment you enter the cabaret dining room until the moment you leave, your hosts, wait staff, cast and crew (all of whom are actors, from the maitre d' to the busboy) stand poised to pamper you, entertain, and make sure that you have a wonderful time. The lively decor and Broadway music project an atmosphere of excitement. A sumptuous buffet dinner is served at 6:15, with an incredible 51 items to choose from. Live piano music begins at 7:00. At 8:00, patrons are escorted into the theater to watch the show. There, a huge stage and tiered seating ensure that everyone has a good view. After the show, you're escorted back to your table where your cocktail order is waiting for you, if you have placed one, and you can sit back and enjoy a truly delightful cabaret program of comedy, skits and music.
The current theatrical offering is LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS, a light-hearted romantic comedy showing several couples in various stages of relationships. Four stories are told as "slice of life" vignettes. In the first, Susan and Mike are about to be married, and are going through a much-practiced ritual of acknowledging Mike's self-proclaimed fear of commitment. They live in separate apartments, which seems odd now but affectionately recalls the late 1960s in which the play was written. Jamie Sousa and Nishan Lawton play the young couple charmingly, winning our affections as we reassure ourselves that all will turn out fine in the end. The second vignette shows us bachelor-cruiser Jerry trying to seduce a pseudo-reluctant Brenda whom he just met in a bar. Both are portrayed as such jerks that they deserve each other, or worse. Jason Heywood and Alicia Marie Rivera play out all the stereotypes Rhode Island style, but the would-be seduction goes on too long, for the audience as well as for the characters. In the third sequence, Kyle Medeiros and Patty Mott play Johnny and Wilma, a married couple engaged in an eternal power struggle. While notions of equality in marriage were probably novel in 1968, we wonder at this scene now, as a couple that fights so constantly these days is unlikely to stay together. Yet these two win our hearts as they discover (and rediscover) that their true strength comes from mutual support. Finally, there is the story of "the" Italian home which every Rho'Dilander will recognize. The acting in this sketch is superb, with Sandra Nicastro and Matt Siravo as the aging couple Bea and Frank, who gradually unveil their tortuous life story as they try to talk their son and daughter-in-law out of -- horrors! -- getting a divorce. Nicastro and Siravo are hysterical, and Jonathan Perry and Lisa Reimer (as son Richie and daughter-in-law Joan) play their foils well, making this the funniest sketch of the lot. Perry and Reimer do a fine job of playing off against such classic lines as "You make your bed, you suffer in it" and "Don't look for happiness, Richie. It'll only make you miserable."
Missing from the series is the story of Hal and Cathy, which is probably the most memorable part of the movie version of the play, released in 1970. Centering around a father-of-the-bride making excuses to his long-suffering mistress (a whiny Gig Young and blubbering Anne Jackson in the movie), that scene takes place almost entirely in a bathroom, and thus presents some staging difficulties. Nonetheless, one would have liked to see this very good cast take a shot at it, although its absence didn't lessen the enjoyment of the evening.
LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS works well in this venue. Whatever your current stage of relationship, you'll find something in it to make you laugh, wince, or go into vehement denial. The humor is sit-commy, which isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the audience on this particular night thoroughly enjoyed themselves, laughing heartily and giving some cast members a standing ovation. And yet, as funny as were the lines in the play, the jokes and skits in the cabaret had everyone in stitches. These short and very funny routines were written by Matt Siravo, who, in addition to playing Frank, is also the show's executive producer. If Mr. Siravo ever decides to write and perform an entire play, I'll be the first to reserve a seat in the front row.
LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS runs through July 18. The Playhouse's next production, FUNNY MONEY, begins July 23. Prices are $29.95 for the theater only, or $42.95 for the entire evening, including the buffet, theater and cabaret. I recommend that you do the whole thing. But don't overdo it by trying to sample everything on the buffet. Take a survey tour first, then make some selections and save room for dessert. I didn't, so have one for me.