Monday, February 18, 2013

Any Given Monday

I attended opening night of "Any Given Monday" at the Firehouse Theatre Project last Friday, the first production offered by the company since the Carol Piersol resignation imbroglio. The drama surrounding the situation lent this opening a little extra zing and I felt an undertone of eager anticipation as I crossed Broad Street on Friday. In the end, the evening felt a lot like any other opening night, though there were a few little weirdnesses. Here's a list of my impressions of the experience, focusing mostly on the show.

n     There was a small and respectful gathering of people holding vigil, I expect, in continuing protest of the Carol situation. They were not loud and did not hold any signs that I saw. I wondered what proportion of the folks heading into the theater knew why they were there.

n     "I heart FTP" stickers were handed out to patrons after they received their programs. I felt awkward having one and did not put it on. The rumors I'd heard about the company changing its name seem premature, or if not, they've spent money on stickers that will be obsolete in a few months.

n     Jase Smith was a gregarious and welcoming host and gave a winning curtain speech to a clearly supportive crowd, many who obviously did know the backstory. He thanked many people, including the company's many sponsors, the board, the staff, and his amazing managing director. I tried (not always successfully) to avoid reading any subtext into any of it.

n     The action of "Any Given Monday" all happens in Lenny's living room, a simple wood panneled affair, in a modest house somewhere in Philadelphia. The set design, which included a foyer and stairway visible through the living room door, was nicely rendered by Ed Slipek.

n     My first and biggest issue with the production: Three of the characters – Lenny (played by David Zimmerman), his daughter Sarah (Kerry McGee), and his wife Risa (Starlet Knight) – are supposed to be Philadelphia Jews. This is not just an incidental thing – their Jewishness and specific areas of Philadelphia are mentioned several times. Maybe I only got hung up on this because I’ve spent nearly every Thanksgiving (and the occasional Passover) for the past 20 years with an extended family of Jews in Philly, but none of the actors sounded correct either for heritage or location. Zimmerman was closest, McGee sounded like she could be a Bryn Mawr student (not sure if that’s where the character was supposed to be going but it makes sense) but one who was originally from the northeast or Midwest not Philly, and Knight had as much southern belle in her as Main Line socialite. Like I said, maybe this bothered me because I’m so familiar with what these characters would actually sound like in their native habitat. But also, these disparate accents and demeanors were made more apparent because Nicolas Aliff plays subway worker Mickey with a definite Philly inflection.

n     Which brings me to my most favorite aspect of the production: Nick Aliff takes a hilarious character as written and wrings every possible laugh out of his rants, his asides and his sometimes manic interactions with the other characters. Zimmerman and McGee were good foils for Aliff at different times and each highlighted different interesting edges of Mickey. In my opinion, Aliff essentially walks away with the show.

n     The play’s plot takes one very interesting zig early on and coasts on that for the bulk of the show until a follow-up zag late in the second act. In between, there are lots of funny bits and some interesting questions about morality and philosophy brought up and then set aside. It’s a seriously funny play, if not particularly deep, turning away from the juicy issues it brings up to resolve the interpersonal drama in which they are couched. I can’t really fault a playwright for the successful (and it is) resolution of the actual story but I did feel a little hankering for some additional exploration of the rights, wrongs and moral in-betweens that are discussed.

n     McGee renders her quirky, smart, insightful character well and the side monologues she delivers between some of the scenes are entertaining. Her depiction of some of the intellectual gyrations Sarah goes through was just right. Overall, though, I think the show could have done without several of the side monologues, particularly the Risa ones, which I didn’t find very enlightening).

n     I thought Zimmerman made for an empathetic sad-sack kind of guy and I felt his ache and confusion over his situation with his wife. I found him a little less convincing as the situation got more complicated. I found Knight’s character most troublesome, both as written and as depicted. I felt the comic snap that had been present during much of the production was muted during the final confrontation and reconciliation between Risa and Lenny. It’s the kind of scene that will probably get better as the actors settle more comfortably into their characters.

n     On a weird personal note, I had a ridiculous coughing fit right near the end of the play and left my seat to duck out of the theater for a minute so it wouldn’t be totally disruptive. So I missed out on probably 3 minutes of action. So my impression of the show is missing a tiny slice of the whole.

n     I attended the show with a friend who had never been to the Firehouse for a play before. He seemed to have a great time, laughed heartily and often, and said he’d be interested in attending a show there again.

So for my first post-Carol Firehouse experience, I’d have to say it was generally enjoyable and that Shanea Taylor did a commendable job pulling together a solid production. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve seen at the Firehouse but certainly not the worst.

I’m not sure what, if anything, that portends for the future. It's not an utter disaster, so no one on the "pro-Carol" side should rejoice (and I'm not sure they would have if it was). However, to the extent the production is successful, I hope it doesn't serve to further entrench the board side of the equation when it comes to the company's future. There are some pretty deep resentments that have sprung up during the past two months and, if nothing happens to dispell them, I fear a shadow will haunt the Firehouse, perhaps forevermore.


Anonymous said...

VERY glad you're blogging again. Please keep it up. There ARE readers out there in the dark!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very balanced approach to the show. Nicholas was incredible. Thank you, David.