Nostalgic evening with TV treasure

Sitcom: Pasadena Theatre Company delights in re-creating the 1950s gem "The Honeymooners."


October 10, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In An Evening with The Honeymooners, the folks at Pasadena Theatre Company have created their own time machine to whisk audiences back to TV sitcom's Golden Age.

Entering the Humanities Recital Hall at Anne Arundel Community College, we see a replica of a 1950s-era television camera in front of a gray-toned set. Before we witness the creation of a Honeymooners episode as Jackie Gleason's studio audience, we're asked to applaud so our sound level can be measured.

Settled in this comfortable cocoon of a theater, we experience the glory days of early television comedy.

Pasadena Theatre Company has culled three vintage segments from choice Honeymooners episodes: "Letter to the Boss," in which Ralph tells boss J.J. Marshall just how low he really is; "Suspense," in which Ralph overhears Alice rehearsing her lines for a play; and "Dinner Guest," in which Ralph and Alice entertain Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Marshall.

Each segment shows what made Gleason "The Great One" with his ability to create indelible ordinary characters like big-mouthed bus driver Ralph Kramden, his level-headed loving wife Alice, gullible upstairs neighbor Ed Norton, who worked in the sewer, and his wife Trixie, who seemed to be around to bounce ideas off.

That old black-and-white magic comes into sharp focus when actor-director Chuck Dick appears on stage as Gleason's Ralph. A larger-than-life presence in his bus driver's uniform, Dick instantly becomes the lovable loudmouth, railing at his fate as he mistakenly assumes he has lost his job at the bus company.

The magic is complete with the arrival of Tom Delaney as Ed Norton, the role created by Art Carney. Delaney bears an uncanny resemblance to Carney's Norton and has his every gesture down to perfection. Having been summoned by Ralph, Norton prepares with shoulder-hunching and rolling, knuckle-cracking, finger-stretching and arm-limbering hilarity to write down Ralph's dictated diatribe.

In the second episode, "Suspense," we find Ralph as a waiter and Norton a diner rehearsing a restaurant scene hoping to enter an acting competition. Ralph's frustration mounts as Norton ignores his "May I give you the pie now?" that anticipates a cream-pie hit, and later it turns to despair when he overhears Alice saying, "I'm killing him tonight" - in preparation for her acting debut.

Melissa Meyd has the impeccable timing and quiet presence that made Audrey Meadows an unforgettable Alice in the original show. As Trixie, Tina Clary seems the perfect foil for Meyd's Alice and Delaney's Norton.

The "Dinner Guest" segment comically reveals Ralph's impatience with his work status and Alice's quiet wisdom, interrupting her husband by offering his boss another helping each time Ralph tries to introduce the subject of a promotion.

By this third segment, Dick, Meyd and Delaney have completely assumed the identities of Ralph, Alice and Ed, with sparkling ensemble playing.

A comic high occurs when Delaney's Norton leads Mrs. Marshall (Judie DiCarlo) in a double-jointed mambo that moves Latin dance to an uncharted realm.

The talented supporting cast of Paul M. Clary, Jim Hagerty, Tina Delaney, Johnathan Grubbkruger, Danny Delaney and Kathy McBee assist in re-creating the golden TV era.

Such period television commercials as Brylcreem's "A little dab'll do you," Ipana toothpaste fighting Mr. Tooth Decay and a dancing Lucky Strike cigarette pack are interspersed in the action to provide added nostalgia.

A few incongruities to note: An ad-libbed "no problem," an expression not heard in the 1950s, was jarring. And someone should be simulating operating the television camera because cameras in those days were never unmanned.

An Evening with the Honeymooners will continue to light up the stage at AACC's Humanities Recital Hall on weekends through Oct. 20. Call the Pasadena Theatre Company box office at 410-969-1801 for reservations.

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