Monday, November 23, 2009

“I Love Paul!”

With their almost completely unfiltered reactions, children can be great critics. At the end of “Greetings” last Friday, I asked my children what they thought of the show. Two out of the four immediately said variations of “I love Paul!”

Paul is, of course, Paul Deiss who plays Mickey Gorski, a developmentally disabled young man (“retarded” according to his dad) who helps bring about a tranformative Christmas visit between his brother, Andy; his brother’s fiancee, Randi; and his parents. Randi is played by my lovely wife, Holly, and I had to laugh at my children’s reactions because they didn’t say anything about their mother initially. After some prompting, they said all of the appropriate laudatory and supportive things about her but, for at least a couple of them, Paul was who made the big impression.

And I can’t argue with that. When I first saw “Greetings” fourteen years ago, I also came away particularly impressed with Mr. Deiss whose ability to so thoroughly and convincingly be Mickey – physically, vocally, behaviorally – is the pivot about which the entire show revolves. Without his consummate skill in a role that seems easily done too big, too small or just not quite right, the production wouldn’t succeed.

And, in my (admittedly biased) view, this production does succeed and with flying colors. I don’t agree with Ms. Lewis that this is “not so much a Christmas play:” the way it challenges assumptions, highlights the importance of relationships and mixes the mystical with the mundane, I think makes for a fantastic Christmas/holiday play. And in the best of holiday traditions, wisdom is found through the actions of someone simple, innocent and loving.

If anything, I think it’s a Christmas/holiday play for grown-ups who understand – and have understood for years – that you shouldn’t be a Scrooge. But where do you go when you move off that pretty simplistic baseline? How do you reconcile the seemingly conflicting holidays traditions? What can/should you believe in a world with so many belief systems? Ultimately, what is family?

I am incredibly proud of Holly for her work in this role and I loved seeing her onstage again. There is something eye-opening about seeing a person onstage, even if you see them every day. On Friday, I was struck for about the millionth time by how pretty my wife is. After a couple of decades in each other’s company, it’s great to catch a little touch of that initial crush again.

Also, I didn’t appreciate the real importance of the character of Randi last time the Mill did this show. Late in the play, when the characters are wondering why everything is happening tonight, Andy says “I’ve brought girls home before” and his mom says something like “But not THIS girl.” In her review, I think Ms. Lewis shows insight (at least more than I initially had) in focusing on the importance of the relationship between Randi and Mickey, a relationship that Holly portrays with honesty, intelligence and urgency. I get the impression that Randi is more than just “a waitress;” she’s a smart and thoughtful person thrown into an awkward situation that grows into an other-worldly one.

Another thing I loved about the production was the relationship between Randi and Richard Koch’s Andy, which felt loving and comfortable to me. Beside Richard being great at playing a somewhat tightly-wound character, I thought he showed a natural affection for Randi as well as for Mickey. As madcap as Richard can be in some roles, it is his warmth that always comes across most strongly to me.

I think it was a great choice for director Tom Width to cast John Moon as Phil, Andy’s dad, as much for their physical similarity as anything else. In the scene where they are really going at each other, it totally looked like a father and son. John also has a kindness that underscores his gruff exterior that comes to the fore at opportune moments. But he can sure portray a total asshole, too – the squirm-inducing dinner scene is all about John and he does a fine job.

And Jodi Strickler (as the mom, Emily), is just a delight. As much as I’ve loved her work over the years, I was newly impressed with Jodi in Barksdale’s “Well” last year. Jodi may not have as much to dig into as Emily as she did as her character in “Well,” but she still makes the most of what the play gives her. Her one-on-one scene with Lucius is among my favorites and the last scene between her and John Moon is sweet and priceless.

And who’s Lucius (if you don’t already know)? Well, you’ll have to go to the play yourself to see. You’ll be glad you did!

No comments: