Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Proposals"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Beverly Creasey

Welcome "Proposals"

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

There's a new theater company on the block and Second Stage's very first production is a keeper. Neil Simon's latest, "Proposals" (at the New Rep space through 15 August) is more Thornton Wilder than Neil Simon: a lyrical memory play about a family vacation home and the romances which flourish and fade there. But Simon fans needn't despair: "Proposals" has lots of jokes about dental cutlery and barking deer.

Simon's set-up is classic farce: everyone's ex's arrive unexpectedly one summer afternoon, and misunderstandings rule the day. But "Proposals" subtly changes gears halfway through, to become a sweet and poignant comedy of manners. One of the reasons this change in tone is so successful is Second Stage's director, Nancy Curran Willis. She gets warm, compassionate performances from her actors right from the get-go. The situation may be farce, but the characters are real.

Joylette Portlock gives a lovely performance as the family housekeeper/confidant, whose estranged husband is only one of the surprise guests. Fred Robbins is grand as the family patriarch/curmudgeon who eavesdrops on everyone in the area.

Susan Sanders' Poconon Mountains set is so homey you wish you could move into the shady weatherbeaten cottage. Ken Lord's lighting is soft and dappled, like the birches surrounding the house. Lis Adams' costumes make those ghastly petticoated dresses from the '50s look sensational on Liz Robbins.

Second Stage's ensemble works together like they've been at it for months, not weeks. "Proposals" is an impressive debut indeed.

"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