Players' 'Breakfast' is nice, but mixed meal

January 21, 1994|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

Les and Bess are an early-1960s morning radio team who get better ratings on the air than off.

These married co-hosts can banter with the best of them, but Bess has become a vapid New York socialite incapable of communication, while Les yearns for his younger days as a baseball broadcaster and has no idea that his only son has been seeing a psychiatrist for a full decade.

Ratings they've got, but happiness? That's another story, says playwright Lee Kalcheim, whose "Breakfast With Les and Bess" is in production at the Colonial Players of Annapolis.

Where is the profit for a couple if they gain an audience, but lose their children, their marriage and their souls in the process?

Yessir, it's a lot to contemplate as you chat over coffee daily, with 100,000 New Jersey housewives hanging on your every word.

Ultimately, I think Colonial Players' audiences are going to enjoy watching Les and Bess confront their ontological demons, but I must confess to some ambivalence about the production.

First off, the play is not exactly riveting dramatic fare. There is so much recollection, so much exchanging of old emotional baggage that not much happens in the theatrical present, which makes for some pretty empty stretches on stage.

The dialogue doesn't exactly pass for poetic insight, either.

"Take two and hit to right," says Les, summing up the philosophy of life he learned calling games for his beloved St. Louis Brownies.

Huh?

The strength here is in the acting, though it's early in the run and the principals have yet to ease fully into their roles. Sunday's performance saw some moments of stiffness and a lack of assurance, particularly when the leading couple was "on the air."

Once things got going, however, Priscilla Schneider proved quite engaging as the beautiful, flighty Bess. When the emotional chips began falling, one wasn't sure whether to hug her or strangle her -- precisely the point of her character.

Jerry Riley gives Les the essential nostalgic air and is fun to watch in the booze-tinged moments of Act II.

Best of all are the kids: Denise Huffer, as the impetuous Shelby; Scott Nichols, who makes the ne'er-do-well son seem much nicer than he is; and Rick Clark, as the young Navy officer Shelby brings home to surprise her oblivious parents.

All in all, then, I was glad to share "Breakfast With Les and Bess." But I'm not sure I was interested enough to have stuck around for lunch.

For ticket information, call the Colonial Players Theater office: 268-7373.

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