`Yonkers' weakens Paragon's debut here

Review: Theater's move to Baltimore is diminished by its opening production.


February 21, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Paragon Theatre Company has a tough name to live up to. And, judging from its debut production in its new Baltimore home, this latest addition to the local community theater scene has a ways to go.

Not that Paragon's production of Lost in Yonkers is anything to be ashamed of. But it's not particularly distinguished, either. And distinction would appear to be mandatory if Paragon hopes to come close to filling its 300-plus seats.

Although Neil Simon won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Lost in Yonkers, the play has always suffered from an opening scene overburdened with exposition. Director Herman Kemper's production is unable to transcend this flaw.

Set in 1942, Simon's wartime drama focuses on a pair of adolescent brothers who are sent to live with their coldhearted grandmother while their recently widowed father works to pay off his late wife's medical expenses.

"Did you ever notice there's something wrong with everyone on Pop's side of the family?" asks Jay, the precocious older brother. Launching into that opening exposition, he proceeds to explain that Aunt Bella has a mind that's "closed for repairs," Uncle Louie is a minor mobster and Aunt Gert has a nervous condition that makes her speech sound more like a wheeze.

The central conflict is between stern Grandma and sweet Bella, and the depictions of these opposing personalities by Joan Corcoran and especially Maria Lakkala are the strongest on stage. Lex Davis and Michael Houk are competent as Jay and Arty, the grandsons whose presence eventually softens Grandma's hard heart, but Houk seems more mature than his 13 1/2 -year-old character.

Kemper has made one rather odd casting decision. The roles of the boys' father and gangster uncle are both played by the same actor, Gregory Kemper (the son of the director, with whom he co-founded the theater). There's not much depth to either character, but in an exaggerated attempt to differentiate between them, the actor reduces the father to a sniveling sad sack.

Lost in Yonkers was the final play Paragon staged last spring at its previous home in Crownsville, and much of the original cast is intact. Yet despite the time the actors have had to hone their roles, most of the portrayals are merely satisfactory, instead of substantial.

Show times at Paragon, 9 W. 25th St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 10. Tickets are $15. Call 410-467-1966.

Ahead of the wave

In 1995, the Theatre Project presented the premiere of Lapis Blue Blood Red, a drama by Baltimore native Cathy Caplan about the 17th-century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Suddenly this long-overlooked artist is all the rage.

She's the subject of a new novel, The Passion of Artemisia, by Susan Vreeland; an exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi: Father and Daughter Painters in Baroque Italy); and last week Lapis Blue opened at New York's HERE theater in Soho.

Early reviews were mixed. "Lapis Blue Blood Red has the tautness of a Law & Order episode," wrote The Wall Street Journal. "While Ms. Caplan's work is little more than a sketch, it is a well-rendered one."

Criticizing the play's focus on the artist's rape by her teacher, The New York Post wrote: "[The play] sacrifices any investigation of her art to a retelling of the old scandal." Time Out praised David Barber's set design, calling it "splendidly realized" and "intelligent."

Barber also designed the set for the Theatre Project production, which was produced by Splitting Image Theatre Company. Lapis Blue continues at HERE through March 3. For more information, call 212-647-0202.

In other news from the Theatre Project, the Canadian company da da kamera will present its latest work, In on It, at the Preston Street theater April 18-20. The new two-man show, written by and starring Daniel MacIvor, is a witty, tender look at the struggle for control in an accident-prone world, according to Theatre Project producing director Anne Cantler Fulwiler.

In 1998, the Theatre Project presented the U.S. debut of MacIvor's Monster, which transferred to off-off-Broadway two seasons later. Show times for In on It at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., are 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information call 410-752-8558.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.