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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

hunger.

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

prosperity.

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

Hurrah at Last, Gramercy Theater, 127 East 23 Street,

212-719-1300. $55. Continues through August 29.


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