Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone?"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


"WHERE HAS TOMMY FLOWERS GONE?"

by Terrence McNally
directed by E. Gray Simons III

Tommy Flowers … Brian Weaver
Greta; Tommy’s Old Flame … Hannah Wilson
Tommy’s Mother; First Lady … Sarah Kauffman
Ben Delight … Robert Serrell
Hack; Manager; Tommy’s Nephew; Tommy’s Brother … Ben Rosenblatt
Nedda Lemon … Morgan Cox
Marilyn Monroe; Waitress; Bunny Barnum … Lizzie Thrasher

Ensemble:

Moderator; Nun … Kristi Barron
Barmaid; Angel; Gypsy Dancer … Rebecca Berowski
Woman #2; Nun … Amber Bowman
Angel; Detention Ward Nurse; Gypsy Dancer … Katie Edgerton
Miss Subways; Gypsy Dancer … Laura Ferland
Young Tommy; Woman #4 … Hesley Harps
Arnold (a dog)… Nicole Marquez
Man #2; Policeman; Secret Service; Cop … Matt Martin
Woman #3; Gypsy Dancer … Jessica Perelle
Announcer’s Voice; Nun … Rachel Ilana Salowitz
Man #1; Cuban voice; Secret Service … Eli Schneider
Interviewer; Nun … Alan Renee Waksman

If today’s directors and actors can do their homework for classical, Elizabethan and Restoration plays, I see no reason why the same attention cannot be given to plays written several decades ago --- in this case, Terrence McNally’s WHERE HAS TOMMY FLOWERS GONE?, one of the Ten Best Plays of the 1971-72 New York season but now very much the period piece. This funny-angry vaudeville centering around social misfit Tommy Flowers caught those days when sharp lines were divided between Youth and Age, Rules and Freedom, etc. --- Tommy is a zany, dangerous rebel and a far cry from the sweet, boneless hippies of HAIR where all you had to do was to let the sunshine in; thanks to Tommy, his evening ends with a BOOM rather than a bang.

WHERE HAS TOMMY FLOWERS GONE? premiered at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, so long ago, and the Festival has revived it, once again, presumably as a still-timely parable. But the times, they are always a-changing, and the anger of today’s young people is different from that of their immediate elders --- they can’t afford to stop the world and get off, for starters (nor can I imagine them in picket lines, risking being carted off to jail) --- and today’s young actors have different body rhythms from their inherited freedoms; to do Mr. McNally’s play justice, the director must plug his actors into a long-vanished counterculture torn between a stifling Right and a liberating Wrong, but under the direction of E. Gray Simons III, the BTF production is bald and wandering with its Tommy, as portrayed by Brian Weaver, a cross between Richard Simmons’ mannerisms and those rubber-faced dolls whose eyes bug out when you squeeze their necks --- only in the second act does Mr. Weaver start to burn but by then I had dismissed his Tommy as an annoying clown, clearly not Mr. McNally’s intention. The rest of the young ensemble is far too clean and sunny for historical accuracy (one character sports a Valley Girl dialect that was still a decade away) but there are memorable, even moving, moments from Morgan Cox as Tommy’s reluctant lady-love and Robert Serrell as a derelict actor whom Tommy takes under his wing. Nicole Marquez as Arnold the Dog is so convincing in her canine-rhythms and tableaus that when she suddenly does a monologue on all fours, the effect is far more startling than that final, predictable BOOM.

Ian Zywica has designed a lovely Pop-collage set with nostalgic images over which you can smile and reminisce; what this TOMMY FLOWERS needed is a starker setting, grubbier-looking actors and more black-humored direction --- in short, homework.

"Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone?" (28 June - 22 July)
BERKSHIRE THEATRE FESTIVAL
Unicorn Theatre, 797 Main Street, Stockbridge, MA
1 (413) 298-5576

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