The changes made during the pre-Broadway run of Israel fTC Horovitz's "Park Your Car in Harvard Yard" become apparent even before the play begins -- there is a pre-curtain announcement that the running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes, and there will be no intermission.
This is a full hour shorter than the production Mechanic Theatre audiences saw three weeks ago when "Park Your Car" began its one-month run. In other words, 45 minutes, as well as the 15-minute intermission, have been trimmed from this story of the uneasy relationship between a retired high school teacher (Jason Robards) and his live-in housekeeper (Judith Ivey).
This is an unquestionable improvement since excessive length was one of the most obvious initial difficulties. That said, it must be acknowledged that in its new form -- one long act consisting of a series of short scenes -- the play seems even more similar to "Driving Miss Daisy" than it did at the outset.
However, most of the cuts and textual rearrangements are also improvements. One of the best is the elimination of the awkward opening scene in which the housekeeper arrives for her first day of work. The action now begins the next morning.
The playwright has also removed most of the references to holidays. These originally served to explain the passing of time, but they were as artificial as the flipping of calendar pages in an old-fashioned movie.
In terms of plot development, the biggest change is that -- without giving too much away -- a major discovery scene has been moved to a later, more climactic moment and combined with a subsequent scene. These revisions allow the characters to work through their emotions in a more cathartic manner.
But interestingly enough, introducing this revelation so late also points up its melodramatic nature. The details are at once unlikely and too neat. Particularly in a show with the scale of a genre painting, such a grandiose disclosure not only feels contrived, it leads you to wonder if the play might not fare better without it.
In terms of performances, the impressive Miss Ivey is even stronger and more natural -- though it scarcely seems possible. And Mr. Robards now appears more feeble from the start, making it more credible that ill health has forced him to employ a housekeeper.
"Park Your Car" begins previews at Broadway's Music Box Theatre Wednesday and opens Nov. 7. The changes it has undergone in Baltimore are undeniable proof of the advantages of out-of-town tryouts; Wednesday night's audience gave the show a deservedly warmer reception than it received the first week. But at the same time, one can't help wishing it had another tryout town, or a longer preview period, in which to experiment further and fine-tune the work that has already been done.
'Park Your Car in Harvard Yard'
When: Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m., matinees tomorrow at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre.