Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Rags"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark


"Rags"

Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Directed by Chris Cardoni
Musical Direction by Wayne Ward

Set Design by Ronald L. Dion
Lighting design by Larry Devlin
Costume Design by Daniel Kozar
Stage Manager James Tallach

Immigrant.........................Will Morningstar
David Hershkowitz.........Jacob Brandt/Ryan Garvin
Rebecca Hershkowitz........Rachel Riehl/Lynn Shane
Bella Cohen.........................Yolanda La Roy
Avram Cohen.............................Jack Agnew
Ben..................................Harley Yanoff
Morris' Mother/Landlady.................Ann Garvin
Newspaper Editor/Mr. Bronstein/Hamlet...Bill Jones
Saul...............................David Giagrande
Rosa/Ophelia...........................Julie Jones
Rachel..................................Gwen Tulin
Nathan Hershkowitz/Ragpicker............Jim Jordan
Big Tim Sullivan/Irish Tenor.............Mike Ryan

ENSEMBLE
Victoria Stratos, David Frank

ORCHESTRA
Keyboard.........................Wayne Ward
Percussion...................Steve Jounakos
Bass...Corey DiMario/Rob Orr/David Weismans
Trombone.....................Anthony Hudson
Woodwind.......................Heather Katz
Trumpet............................Tim Cote

"Rags" --- which was a famous failure on Broadway --- is not so much revived as redeemed in the new production at the Turtle Lane Playhouse. The play opens with a deckload of "greenhorn" Balkan-Jewish immigrants sailing past (I swear) Miss Liberty. Throughout act One they learn about Americans, and in act two they learn to be Americans. The songs all have great Stephen Schwartz lyrics, and most of the cliche situations in musicals are standing on their heads by the time the show ends --- as it began --- with a new batch of "greenhorns" rushing into New York City. Brought onto this stage, "Rags" works.

It's a given that, when he's at his best, it takes a strong cast to "upstage" a Ronald L. Dion set. Here Dion has put not only The Statue of Liberty but the Triangle Shirtwaist-Factory fire convincingly on stage. They are seen through a battleship-gray steel wall at the back of the action, which either melts into transparency or opens a section through which a crowded tenement living-room or a bank of factory sewing-machines can be trundled centerstage. A brownstone front stoop far stage-left completes this portrait of the New York ghetto of nineteen-and-ought-something in which this play largely takes place.

And this really is Joseph Stein's play, with fine, rarely-heard songs by Schwartz and Composer Charles Strouse illustrating and emphasizing the emotions. The play follows two women from their friendship on the boat through their exploitations in what is still called "the rag trade". Rebecca Hershkowitz (Lynn Shane*) is a woman with a son --- young Ryan Garvin* narrates the entire show from his point of view --- expecting to be met by her husband (Jim Jordan) who doesn't show up until act two! Young Bella (Yolanda La Roy) expects America to be a new life with new experiences, but her teacher father (Jack Agnew) --- reduced to a pushcart peddler --- intends to protect her from everything she's eager to discover. Bella sews piece-work collars shut up at home, while Rebecca resists as much as she can the charms of David Giagrando's Saul --- a compassionate union organizer who teaches them English, and takes them to Emma Goldman lectures, and a hilarious Yiddish take on "Hamlet" that features cast/audience interactions that end in everyone doing a hora!

These characters dominate a first act documenting the compromises and joys of sweatshop and sidewalk life in a city where people who have to eat will work for four cents a shirt and desperation makes organizing unions both necessary, and impossible. By act two, however, the life "Uptown" --- with Tammany politicians (Mike Ryan et al) hoping to deliver "the kike vote" while breaking strikes and heads to placate bosses --- gets exposure, with Daniel Kozar's opulent gowns and loud suits contrasting sharply with the "rags" on the backs of immigrant workers.

So, despite its around twenty years' age, "Rags" is a whole new experience, glittering with incident and information, arguments over real issues set to music, hints at romance and disaster, and butterflies of hope emerging out of the chrysallis of the past. This time, with Stage Director Chris Cardoni and Music Director Wayne Ward at their best, there's much more than a damn good set worth experiencing at The Turtle Lane Playhouse.

__________
* These roles were double-cast and may be played by Rachelle Riehl, Jacob Brandt, or (as fresh-faced little Morris) Paul Kmieck on future nights.

Love,
===Anon.


"Rags" (7 February - 16 March)
TURTLE LANE PLAYHOUSE
283 Melrose Street NEWTON, MA
1 (617)244-0169


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | USHER | SEATS | INTERMISSION | CURTAIN |