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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 7,
1999. All rights reserved.
Review: `Hurrah At Last’
Recommend a good play or musical to someone and they
invariably ask if it is on Broadway. Does their inquiry mean that
if the show is not in the neighborhood of Shubert Alley that it can’t
really be important enough to warrant their attention? Or does it
just mean that most people are still baffled by the term — if
not the actual definition of — "Off-Broadway."
What and where is Off-Broadway? And why, after a century of stirring
up and fostering both social-minded, anti-social minded theater, can
no one direct you to it?
The fact is that Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, and its heir apparent
Off-Off-Off Broadway surround the mainstream theaters, from the Battery
to the Bronx and river to river, like the planets around the sun.
As we dip into the 1999-2000 theater season, Off-Broadway and all
its progeny look brighter than ever. Whether it is a refracted or
self-generated light, this theatrically-propelled phenomenon seems
to be exhibiting as much vitality, guts, and tenacity as does its
more formidable Broadway counterpart. So what else is new? Although
I personally don’t remember the years just after the turn of the century
when the Progressive Stage Society, with its anti-establishment themes,
or the Neighborhood Playhouse, with its predominantly ethnic thrust,
got the Off-Broadway movement going, I do have what may be called
a persistent passion for the past — the theater’s past, that is.
But if any readers had either an immigrant grandparent or parent living
in lower Manhattan back then, he or she might have told you how significant
the Jewish Worker’s Theater, the Ukrainian Dramatic Circle, the Negro
Players, and later the companies of Eva LeGallienne and Orson Welles
were to the cultural lives of those who had little money but an intellectual
My own sense of Off-Broadway began in 1952 with the Circle in the
Square production of Tennessee Williams’ "Summer and Smoke."
I was 14 years old, and it was my first excursion, free from parental
guidance, into Greenwich Village, and my first Williams play. I was
never the same. Pardon me if I can’t help looking backward a little
even as I reflect on some of the more recent Off-Broadway openings.
Rather like a planet circling the sun is the appropriately titled
Roundabout Theater Company, which, not because it wanted to, has been
forced to move its location twice this decade. While awaiting the
completion of its new theater on 42nd Street, the Roundabout production
of Richard Greenberg’s "Hurrah at Last" is currently at the
Gramercy Theater on 23rd Street.
McCarter Theater audiences had a sample of Greenberg’s
use of dramatic irony when his dark and disturbing play, "Safe
As Houses," had its world premiere there in March, 1998. Now you
can get a sample of Greenberg’s lighter side with "Hurrah at Last,"
a very funny, if slight, comedy that may remind some of Neil Simon
at his peak.
In it Laurie (Peter Frechette), a talented, well-reviewed and published
novelist is, nevertheless, a mess. As we see him at a holiday season
gathering of family and friends at his sister and brother-in-law’s
Soho loft, he is a bundle of nerves, sweats, anxieties, envy, doubt,
and disdain. Further, he cannot help but openly announce his resentment
toward Oliver (Paul Michael Valley), his best married and straight
friend, a hack writer of money-making plays and screenplays. Oliver
is making lots of money and Laurie is not.
When the fawning, smug Oliver, who is not above pandering to Laurie’s
attraction (he actually strips bare for Laurie’s amusement), remarks
that "money doesn’t buy happiness," Laurie’s reply — "But
it can upgrade despair so beautifully" — gets a laugh. But
it is also a clue to the play’s theme: Why can’t art be as commercial
as dreck? While succumbing to the effects of a growing fever that
will soon put him in a hospital bed, Laurie is responding to the man
who has recently been asked to adapt one his own more obscure novels
for the movies. The remark provides the spark that ignites the suffering
Laurie, as he confronts the play’s other characters from both his
hallucinatory and real perspectives.
These include Oliver and his non-English speaking wife Gia (Judy Blazer),
who appear to be as adept at making money as they are guiltless at
making babies. Gia comes to the party with a baby in her arms. Conversely
expensive infertility treatments have put a strain on the marriage
of Laurie’s sister Thea (Ileen Getz) to Eamon (Kevin O’Rourke), another
man cursed with the Midas touch. The Jewishness of Laurie’s parents
(Dori Brenner and Larry Keith) is given plenty of room for hilarious
expression, particularly by their compulsively negative thinking,
by their own victimized values, and, of course, by their taken-for-granted
The emotional havoc created by a terrific cast is hilariously balanced
by the physical wreckage caused by another guest, a 200-pound mastiff
(played with scene-stealing assurance by Dreyfus). Is Laurie’s failure
to make money fatal? You may wonder as perpetually manic Frechette
perspires on cue. Are Laurie’s fortunes due for a change? Don’t ask.
Although the play runs out of comic invention before it is over, director
David Warren gives Greenberg’s fanciful notions every opportunity
to make his point about the fickle nature of happiness.
— Simon Saltzman
212-719-1300. $55. Continues through August 29.
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