ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
The Belmont Avenue Social Club
Editor's Note: A retrospective look at any season of playgoing always brings a few regrets about shows which closed before we had a chance to catch up with them. Usually, these are the small short runs that with a little luck could rise above their modest beginnings. The Belmont Avenue Social Club by Bruce Graham was one such show. It ran briefly at the Intar on Theatre Row under the auspices of The Working Theatre Group which, true to its name, seeks out plays that reflect the experiences of working people. Unfortunately, everyone who reviews for CurtainUp was tied up.
Since we did manage to get to Mr. Graham's earlier play, Racing Demons, which was the first play of the beautiful Century Theater on Fifteenth Street. A play about a lawyer it turned out to be more than just another lawyer drama, so we were not surprised to hear that The Belmont Avenue Social Club transcended its backroom political drama. It seems that under Constance Grappo's direction and by virtue of a stellar ensemble cast Mr. Graham's cast of unsympathetical pols were fully realized to that audiences were given a rare opportunity to see beyond the obvious reversals of its characters political fortunes. The Intar production we missed was not the play's first incarnation (it premiered in Philadelphia nine years ago) and, as evident from the review below, neither was it the last. As Jack Holland's review makes clear not all productions are created equal and the subtleties apparent in one can be absent in another. Too bad.. --e.s.
The Rojo Productions west coast premiere of Belmont Avenue Social Club takes place in 1985 in an old style inner city political club where political maneuverings range from having a parking ticket fixed to deciding who will be the next city councilman. The play works well in its depiction of backroom political maneuvering and social commentary, but the overall effect is flat. The maneuvers begin with the death of the current councilman and imminent choice of his replacement
The performances are a mixed bag. The strongest is given by Pat Tanzillo. His portrayal of Doug, the college educated heir apparent to the vacated council seat is seamless. The play comes alive whenever he is on stage and the subtlety of his every move, the way he seems to have an inner dialogue going at all times is fascinating to watch.
J.J. Johnston as Fran the head of the club looks the part but the emotional fit is another matter. He is too low key to be a convincingly tough political boss. Michael Brooks as Chickie his goof ball assistanta plays at being stupid fairly well -- except for the times that he seems smarter than he's supposed to be which dampens the comic potential of his role. The weakest performance is left to the most unintelligent and bigoted member of the club. As Cholly, Edmund Gaynes seems lost on stage and in the script, since he stumbled over lines. On the night I attended, his timing was off until nearly the end .
There is one other character, Tommy, played by Ted Schwartz who also directs. Mr. Schwartz ably depicts Tommy's shift from being drunk and depressed over his friend the councilman's death to confident eagerness when he is picked to step into his shoes. Schwartz the actor handles his character's emotional highs with greater skill than he does the directing Under his guidance things move at too slow a clip and without the necessary emotional peaks and valleys. The thematic elements of lives changing and collapsing is barely perceptible and the lack of movement and overall vitality give this Belmont Avenue Social Club the feel of a staged reading.