Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Proposals"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


by Neil Simon
Directed by Nancy Curran Willis

Set Design by Susan Sanders
Costume Design by Lis Adams
Makeup & Hair Design by Madeline Beaudoin
Lighting Design by Ken Lord
Sound Design by Jim Murphy
Stage Manager John Murtagh

Clemma Diggins..........Joylette Portlock
Burt Hines.........................Fred Robbins
Josie Hines........................Lara Hakeem
Ken Norman.........................Tom Berry
Ray Dolenz..................John Schnatterly
Annie Robbins.....................Liz Robbins
Vinnie Bavasi........Joseph Zamparelli, Jr.
Sammii..............................Nicole Jesson
Lewis Barnett..........................Cliff Odle

The Second Stage Theatre Company was in existence for a total of only eight weeks when their first production opened. Their area premiere of "Proposals" is late-vintage Neil Simon, movingly acted and sensitively directed. But in addition the production is both an historic co-operation of Equity/non-Equity worlds, and proof of the vitality of the theatrical talent pool in and around Boston.

The play itself has a broken engagement and two broken marriages to contemplate, and while wit and parody pepper the script the real action is the reconciliations of people with unforgotten and often unforgiven people from their pasts. Burt Hines (Fred Robbins) is a self-made workaholic store-maker, retired by a series of prophetic heart-attacks and eager to bring his grown daughter Josie (Lara Hakeem) and his divorced and remarried wife Annie (Liz Robbins) to some sort of harmony. Josie's suitors are a young lawyer (Tom Berry) and a golf-pro/novelist (John Schnatterly). The housekeeper --- and Josie's substitute mother --- is an uppity, with-it Black lady (Joylette Portlock) whose husband (Cliff Odle) drops back in after a seven year separation. And as if that weren't enough, along for the ride are Mafia scion Vinnie Bavasi (Joseph Zamparelli, Jr.) and a bubble-headed beauty (Nicole Jesson) who merely complicate things.

In his later plays, Neil Simon has found a balance between funny and serious that leans more toward the latter. The real-life problems of these characters are always present, but they are not inclined to hide them with wit and bombast. Nancy Curran Willis has kept the seriousness of these characters in the foreground, and her actors accept the sincerity of emotion that makes the laugh-lines into comic relief rather than the other way round. And, in a sense, the balance and the reunion of families has a faint flavor of "The Philadelphia Story" about it. The sumptuous single set by Susan Sanders only adds to that flavor.

But a good play done well isn't news here, considering the talents and experience of the people involved. Nancy Curran Willis has been a Best Director nominee at several community theater festivals, and Fred Robbins, Tom Berry, and Liz Robbins have won similar awards for their acting. John Schatterly, Joe Zamparelli and Nicole Jesson will be familiar to any dedicated theatregoer from dozens of plays over the last couple years. Liz and Fred Robbins have been so busy this is the first time in three years that they've been in the same play. These are serious theater practitioners who are outgrowing the limits of amateur and semi-pro productions and are reaching for bigger things and better recognition. In a real sense, that is what the phrase "Second Stage Theatre Company" implies.

On the other hand, Cliff Odle plays bass for Federal Twist( a rock band) and is moonlighting as an actor. Joylette Portlock took biology and DramaShop at MIT, and this is her first non-college production. Lara Hakeem is a new face on Boston stages, but worked in New York, Maine, Texas and Rhode Island, and may be ready for an Equity Card. This is a "second stage" for them, too.

This new company is evidence of the vigor and hunger for growth and recognition that ripples through Boston's theater world, or really worlds. Each company, on whatever level, has been focused in on its own problems and achievements, without realizing that the level of quality and the frequency of outstanding quality has been creeping up of late. There are many good people working here who need a Second Stage to reach toward. Let's hope this one prospers.


"Proposals" (till 15 August)
New Repertory Theatre, 54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS
1(617) 332-1646

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide