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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
You gotta keep getting notions
When reviving a play from an earlier era a production company should be aware of its place in its own time and if the work would satisfy contemporary expectations. Many shows from the early 20th century have had successful revivals; for example, most works by George Bernard Shaw or Eugene O'Neill or Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine (which was recently musicalized) or Street Scene. But Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman's June Moon, originally produced in 1929, currently at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, creaks with old jokes and hackneyed characters.
Rachel Napoleon and Nate Corddry(Photo credit: T Charles Erickson)
While many of Kaufman's works, such as You Can't Take it With You
in 1937, have continued to delight audiences, June Moon has not withstood the test of time. The plot is coated with cobwebs.
Fred Stevens (Nate Corddry) is a neophyte lyricist escaping from his job at G.E. in Schenectady and is bound to seek his fortune in New York. On the train he meets sweet Edna Baker (Rachel Napoleon). Working with Paul Sears (Rick Holmes,) a second-rate composer, Fred becomes enamored of Eileen Fletcher (Kate MacCluggage,) Sears' gold-digger sister-in-law. The partners' first song "June Moon" becomes a hit and Fred is ensnared by Eileen. Of course, everything ends happily in the last five minutes.
Stereotypical characters abound starting with the country naïf Fred, the virginal Edna, the femme fatale Eileen, as well as Maxie Schwartz (David Turner,) an intellectual, wise-cracking Jew (probably modelled on Kaufman,) a ditsy blonde (Whitney Maris Brown,) and others. One of the oddest and funniest characters is inept songwriter Benny Fox (Christopher Fitzgerald). The laugh lines, very Lardner-esque in that the play is based on his short story "Some Like Them Cold," are one-liners usually heard in vaudeville sketches rather than being character-driven. A few of the jokes as well as exchanges of dialogue are pithy and insightful, but on the whole, it has all been heard before. Many of the references to people famous in that time period are likely to be lost to modern audiences.
The amiable cast is obviously enjoying themselves despite the script. They instill life into their characters and deliver the dialogue with intelligence and an appreciation of the play's atmosphere. Though not a musical, songs, written by Lardner and others, are sung as the audience enters and are used to cover scene changes and director Jessica Stone has staged the work cognizant of the time it was written.
The sets by Tobin Ost are handsome but huge. During an extended intermission at a Sunday matinee the audience could hear hammers banging and things scraping across the stage floor. Evidently there had been a problem changing the sets. Greg Barnes' costumes are lovely to look at and are suggestive of the twenties' styles.
The play has its entertaining moments but they do not occur as often as they should.
When a jaunty young New York commpany calling itself The Drama Department mounted June Moon, in 1997 they somehow hit enough of a responsive chord (including with me) to transfer to the Variety Arts Theater a year later. The audience response to that transfer apparently came closer to Gloria Miller's less enthusiastic reception and lasted for just a brief run. While the Drama Department disbanded its members continue to have impressive careers —and that includes Jessica
Stone who was an inspired Edna Baker in that earlier June Moon.
Williamstown audiences had a chance to appreciate Stone's comedic talents in Where's Charley, a musical chestnut that still managed to be funny. . . and her stellar directorial debut in 2010 with a terrific A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum.
Obviously Stone has continued to have a soft spot for June Moon e.s.
By Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman
Directed by Jessica Stone
Cast: Nate Corddry (Fred Stevens), Rachel Napoleon (Edna Baker), Rick Holmes (Paul Sears), Kate MacCluggage (Lucille Sears), Holley Fain (Eileen Fletcher), David Turner (Maxie), Diana DiMarzio (Goldie), Jason Bowen (Window Cleaner), Christopher Fitzgerald (Benny Fox), Timothy Shew (Mr. Hart), Dennis Kozee (A Man Named Brainard), Whitney Maris Brown; Also Song Pluggers, Pianists and Ensemble.
Scenic Design: Tobin Ost
Costumes: Gregg Barnes; Lighting: Jeff Croiter; Sound: Drew Levy
Dialect Coach: Louis Colaianni
Music director: Kris Kukul
Hair and Wigs: Charles G. Lapointe
Stage manager: Libby Unsworth
Running Time: 2 ½ hours including one intermission
From July 2 to 13, 2014
Main Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 4th matinee
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