Theatre Mirror Reviews - "No Way to Treat A Lady"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark

"No Way to Treat A Lady"

Book, Music & Lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen
Based on the novel by William Goldman
Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Choreographed by Mary Mazzulli
Musical Direction by Jonathan Goldberg

Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland
Lighting Design by Russell Swift
Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley
Sound Design by Marc Plevinsky
Production Stage Manager Laurie A. Light

Morris Brummel................Derek Stearns
Sarah Stone...................Robin V. Allison
Christopher "Kit" Gill........J. H. Williston
Flora Brummel, Etc. ....Maryanne Zschau

It's a hit. You know what's a hit? A hit is, no matter when you go to buy tickets, the show is already sold out. And when at a Sunday Afternoon Performance of "No Way to Treat A Lady" the Lyric Stage of Boston had to offer Subscribers folding-chairs added to an already full house --- That is A Hit. Okay, there were a couple cancellations, they could move up into real seats. Maybe you'll be lucky there'll be cancellations for you but I repeat: a Hit is a show everyone wants to see because nobody can get tickets to see it, and that's what makes ticket-sellers surly.

What makes a show a hit?* Sometimes --- especially with Broadway shows --- there's little connection between popularity and quality, but that's not true here. The show you already can't see is blockbuster-brilliant in every slightest, precisely-honed little detail, from the solo and ensemble inter-playing to the knife-clean scene-changes by a crisply invisible running-crew. (This is after all a Spiro Veloudos production and he deserves the two gold stars by his name in the program.) The cast and Jonathan Goldberg's musicians enjoy themselves almost as much as the delighted audience that's treated to surprise after surprise in a production that Douglas J. Cohen, the man who made everything (except the story, that comes from William Goldman's novel**), said in at least one hilarious scene was, for maybe the first time, staged as it should be.

So it's nice for a reviewer to be able to tell everything about a bubbly funny suspenseful story to all of you who won't be able to get seats --- but there may be cancellations (or maybe scalpers) so I'll practice restraint. There are only four in the cast: Derek Stearns plays a short, squashed Columbo-likealook Jewish detective falls dead-solid in love at first sight with Robin V. Allison playing a woman he meets investigating a strangling in her building. J.H. Williston plays his quarry, an elegant, arrogant role-playing neurotic who calls the detective from the very scene of a crime to demand help in getting both their names on the front page of the New York TIMES. And Maryanne Zschau plays Every0ne else, beginning with the detective's Jewish-mother-from-hell and running through three of the victims and even the ghost of --- no, that would be telling. It is true, however, that her five different women are so sharply and differently defined you'll swear Spiro had her cloned.

This cast doesn't sing, instead they Act the twenty intricately conversational numbers that bubble up out of dialogue. And it's the dialogue, the playing-to and -with each other every note of the way that makes each turn of plot amazing. Douglas Cohen's story is so densely and imaginatively logical, so theatrically realistically human and surprisingly funny it's amazing that has so never before been done here in the city that made serial stranglings a household word.

For Designer Janie E. Howland this show is about doors --- dozens of doors of all kinds at all levels and depths, the very doors the egotistical murderer charms his way through, the doors of the heart love walks through, the doorway to a newer, freer life, and the door out of insanity to self-acceptance. And all of them in a musical comed- .... No. In a play set to music that opens doors to new wonders with every scene.

Too bad it's a hit. If it wasn't a hit you could buy tickets. But maybe, maybe if you're exceptionally charming, the ticketseller at The Lyric can squeeze you in a folding-chair. (And maybe you can win the lottery, too!)


*What may have made this show a hit was simply: The GLOBE liked it. Their undisputed ability to turn houses from So-So to Sold-Out has rarely been exercized on a locally produced Boston [Not Cambridge!] show in recent years. Let us hope their newly realized ability to Make instead of just Break a show becomes a journalistic addiction.

**Not, as some airily inaccurate lout wrongly asserted "Based on the 1968 Rod Steiger film... "

"No Way to Treat A Lady" (till 10 March)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON
1 (617) 437-7172

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide