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Gillette, besides providing a New York stage debut for Riggins, marks a departure of sorts for the four-year old Storm Theatre Company. Most of their previous productions focused on the works of dead authors -- John Synge (Playboy of the Western World), Dion Bouccicaault (The Shaughraun and Arragh-ne-Pogue), Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Money -- reviewed at CurtainUp). William Hauptman is not only alive but, like Riggins, has a good deal of name recognition by virtue of his Tony Award winning musical Big River. Since Gillette is seventeen years old and has only had one brief run in California, however, it fits the company's mission of giving New York audiences a chance to see plays they would not otherwise have an opportunity to see.
According to a quick internet search, Wyoming does actually have a town named Gillette though the town's website gives no history of it being a boomtown for oil drilling in 1981. To my knowledge that kind of boom town situation ended many years earlier than the play's time frame, but I'm willing to take Mr. Hauptman's history at face value -- especially since watching his play leaves me with plenty of other quibbles.
Hauptman's aim of depicting the pull towards realization on one hand, and financial success on the other hand through a group of colorful characters that includes drifters and prostitutes is valid enough. The once sleepy little town that now has "Cinema One, Two and Trhee" is an apt background for the story of forty-year-old Mickey Hollister (Riggins-- who, while good looking enough, looks closer to his real age of fifty-two, than forty). Mickey has come to Gillette by way of Texas in order to earn enough money to buy his dream fishing boat in Alaska.
The trouble with all this is that the Silver Dollar Lounge where we first meet Mickey and his innocent-abroad sidekick Bobby Nobis (Eric Alperin) seems straight out of a dozen grade B movies. The same is true of Mickey and Bobby and the whole quirky equally quaintly named cast of characters: the tough-as-nail waitreess-bartender Doreen (Kristin Mauritz); the former athlete turned oil rig boss Bouger McCoy (Kevin Villers) and his aide-de-camp Poot (Derek T. Bell); two entrepreneurial hookers Cathy (Colleen Crawford) and Brenda (Shaula Chamblss) who turns out to be the love of Mickey's life. There's also a hapless dumbbell (Genia Michaels) for Bobby, who must break free of her nasty biker boyfriend (Eric Thorne) and, of course, a sheriffr (Paul A. Burns II).
As all these characters play out their all too predictable roles, I began to have a sneaking suspicion that this play's limited has life is less a case of neglect than its being as dated as the movies it echoes. The script does have some sharp dialogue, especially from Doreen (her rejection of Bobby will stand for all: " I hate tell you Romeo, but there's something like fourteen thousand other guys who got here first . . .Know how they say Bo Derek's supposed to be the only perfect ten? Well every girl in Gillette's a five just by being here -- even if she's on Medicare."). Ms. Moritz's Doreen and Colleen Crawford's Cathy, the hooker, are among the better performances. On the whole, however, director Peter Dobbins must make do with an underwhelming cast. His efforts to break the fourth wall tend to be more busy than effective -- for example, having the actors at the bar as the audience is seated, having Mickey and Bobby move a couch on stage for their post intermission prairie scene and then lounge around and pretend to have a conversation.
The twangy country music in between scenes covers the noisy bustle of moving props for shifts to various locations. But don't expect another Big River. Jeremiah Lockwood's original music is more noisy than memorable.
Like all small companies the Storm Theatre is to be commended for putting on large cast productions with a small budget -- and for daring to act on the challenge of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus: "Now is the time to storm; why art thou still?"
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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