BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Joe and Betty
by Les Gutman
Joe (John Diehl) and Betty (Annabelle Gurwitch) are a working-class Jewish couple, transplanted from Brooklyn to the Catskills so Joe can be closer to his mother. He is inadequate as a provider and as a father, squandering his earnings drinking with "the coloreds" and chasing underaged girls. She is out of her element in the country, mentally ill, prone to violence and ill-suited to child-rearing. It's no great surprise that one of their six children, Emile (spoken to but never seen onstage, and representing the playwright), is troubled and, after the death of his grandmother, a recluse.
There is little arc to the story; the marriage is a disaster and Betty spends her time unhappily: complaining about money, neglecting her kids, being jealous of others and pining for Brooklyn. Joe is emotionally and often physically absent. They are friends with a gentile couple (more accurately, Joe is), Stan (Tom McCleister) and Dot (Shawna Casey), who drop by to play cards and the like, and throw around some hints of anti-Semitism. The cast also includes a woman from the school, Hilda (Edith Fields), sent out of concern for the children's welfare; their Jewish landlady, Mollie (Sharron Shayne, the best performance in the lot), who may or may not be depriving them of heat; and Joe's younger brother, Irv (Drago Sumonja), who is far more successful as a car salesman. Precious little of dramaturgical value is gained from any of them.
Mednick has written some good material, especially for Betty, but fails to exploit it by having it take us anywhere. The problem is compounded by choppy direction that seems intent on treating the couple's performances more like a Vaudeville routine than a realistic drama, and by Ms. Gurwitch's portrayal of Betty, which registers more like a suburban Philadelphia housewife than any Brooklynite I've ever engaged. Background material suggests the play is supposed to be about Anti-Semitism and racism, but both are only addressed by their presentation, sans illumination. One can imagine this play revealing something meaningful about the effects of such flawed parents on the children, but that can't be achieved when our exposure to the children is only through the parents' description.
Joe and Betty arrives in New York with critical acclaim in tow from Los Angeles and, even more incredibly, a citation from the American Theatre Critics Association. For what, I can only wonder.
LINK TO ANOTHER PLAY BY MURRAY MEDNICK
Theater Books Make Great Gifts
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.