Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Self-Help"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents Copyright 2009 Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The current show at the Granite Theatre is Norm Foster's comedy "Self Help". Hal and Cindy Savage are a couple of second-rate actors who long for a first-class life. They are weary of scraping out a meager living by plying their trade in second-rate theatres, playing in "The Odd Couple". The best thing they have is their love for each other. Cindy has an epiphany involving a pithy self-help book and a bad night at yet another uninspiring dinner theatre in Connecticut and voila! They re-invent themselves as all-knowing gurus of personal and professional development and are a runaway success. Sadly, love is the victim as their bank account grows and their love for each other dwindles. Enter an amorous gardener, a sudden death, surprise visits from their agent, a policeman and a nosey reporter on their idealistic new maid's first day on the job. Veteran director Arthur Pignataro directs the show with a comic touch and makes these wacky characters come to life in a roller-coaster ride of insightful zingers, witty asides and bawdy humor with his six member cast. The comic situations abound in this madcap show with a naked body in the study, a romantically-challenged detective in the hall, a tabloid reporter digging for dirt on the second floor, a stressed-out maid in the kitchen, a couple of actors-turned-self-help gurus running around trying to manage it all, then toss in a wise-cracking gritty agent. It is black-hearted farce, a perfect way to launch yourself into fall.

Arthur supplies his cast with clever shtick including carrying a rug with a dead body around the stage back and forth constantly. The witty asides attack the police force, the newspaper trade and motivational speakers. His hard working stage manager, Greg Bliven keeps things moving smoothly all night long while Arthur handles the numerous lighting and sound cues. The beautiful estate set is by David Jepson with five entrances including a French Door so people can be seen inside and outside of the house while a black curtain is used for the Moonglow Theatre and the motivational speaking auditorium where they chant "Out with the Doubt". Jeff Sullivan and Beth Jepson play the leading characters, Hal and Cindy Savage, the self-help gurus and performers. They are like old time snake-oil salesmen dispensing their lingo of success and at times sounding like an evangelical tag team duo when they become a much revered relationship experts. Each has a way of making their characters quite vulnerable in spite of their semi-swindling excesses. They try to hang onto their falsely won fame as they try to conceal a body. Some of their funny bits include trying to have sex at inopportune moments throughout the show since the couple hasn't had sex with each other for a year. Some of his funniest lines are "You try playing Felix Unger to a gay Oscar Madison." and what is this "hump the help week" when he walks into the study. Her funniest lines are "If theatre is our mistress, I say let's dump the bitch." and No shit, stiff and many other double entendres Her loudest laugh is a play on the word ridiculous, diclousrid. They do a wonderful job as these madcap characters with many zingers like these in Foster's script.

Amy Buckley, a statuesque blonde, plays the wise-cracking agent, Ruby wonderfully, delivering her many one liners to a constantly laughing audience. Her New York accent is a hoot and one of her biggest laughs is when she looks at the dead body which now has a hat strategically placed on his privates. Veronica Strickland appears as the comic maid whose nervousness and nervous twitch around the madcap characters is funny to watch. She quotes their sayings from their books including "The Savage Within" saying how much they have inspired her. Veronica is comical as the timid maid who blossoms into a mad woman who tells them what to do as the play rolls to its frantic conclusion. Jim Moulding and John Pescatello add to the merriment as Detective Snow and tabloid reporter, Jeremy Cash. Jim's funniest section is where he explains the small tiff with his wife that leaves the audience in gales of laughter. John plays the crafty newsman wonderfully while pretending to romance Ruby and he speaks into his tiny taperecorder so the audience knows what he is truly up to. He is also an Eugene O'Neill Award winning actor. There are many twists and turns at the humorous situations throughout the show so I can't give out as many details as I'd like. So for an evening of hilarity, be sure to catch "Self Help" at the Granite Theatre. It will warm you up during those cool autumn nights with you constantly laughing.

"Self-Help" (11 September - 4 October)
1 Granite Street, WESTERLY RI
1 (401)596-2341)

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide