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LETTERS TO EDITOR
By Macey Levin
The Second Stage Theatre, the company that brought the Tony award winning Metamorphoses to New York, is continuing its efforts to foster new plays at its old home, the McGinn/Cazale Theatre. The series, known as New Plays Uptown, is introducing Wendy Kesselman's bittersweet The Notebook, a work about love, passions and coming of age.
Warren Stone, a student at an exclusive Manhattan private school, is a voracious reader who keeps his red-covered notebook with him to record his thoughts. Miss Thorne, the demanding but highly respected English teacher of ninth grade girls, invites him to her class to interpret literature and to serve as an example of a devotee of the written word.
Jenny, a lonely Russian immigrant student, recites Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"; to Warren she becomes Natasha, his favorite character from Tolstoy's War and Peace, and instantly falls in love with her. Miss Thorne becomes Jenny's mentor, instructing her about literature and assisting her to find her voice as a poet and a young woman. An alliance is formed among the two students and the ferocious teacher.
Young Jenny's understanding of the world travels beyond Thorne's limited view. Whereas she teaches the structure and interpretation of literature, the student experiences the emotions of the words. As Jenny grows stronger and more confident, Thorne sees in her what she can never become and turns away from her prodigy.
Warren's love for Jenny is, perhaps, an infatuation, but it is grounded in an appreciation of literature and life. She opens the world to him and he goes beyond reading about life and love by experiencing its joy and pain. The profound effect she has on his heart and mind sends him resolutely into manhood.
The play is well structured and involving, though at times too episodic. The transitions need more fluency in the writing and staging. A fourth character, Mr. Gilman, the owner of a bookstore and Warren's confidant, is underwritten. We know very little about him and how he has attained this special role in Warren's life.
Kesselman's dialogue rings true as she captures the nature of adolescents in their speech and sensitivities. The relationship among the three protagonists is also indicative of the effects a strong teacher may have on young personalities. Kesselman includes several excerpts from and allusions to classical literature. Knowledge of the material is not necessary, but it adds to the understanding of the play.
Miles Purinton's Warren is a charming young man with a wry sense of humor. As the narrator of the play he shares his observations and feelings with the audience. He addresses us with intelligence, a sly smile and a knowing wink. As he learns truths about love and people, Purlinton grows up and becomes wiser.
With a sweet smile and highly expressive eyes, Portia Reiners radiates as Jenny as she grows from a shy, introverted young woman; after Thorne turns on her, Reiners' loss and pain are palatable. Though she stumbled a couple of times, she maintained her Russian accent and diction, something that Peter Van Wagner as Gilman did not do. A pleasing presence on stage, the show's pace sometimes lagged in his scenes.
Lisa Harrow's Miss Thorne is the teacher we all feared and respected. She is knowledgeable and dynamic, but the fašade covers a restricted personality. Harrow is both ingratiating and aloof, creating a subtle and complex picture, though she falls back on an artificial shrieking in a climactic scene.
The direction by Evan Yionoulis, especially of the young actors, is intelligent and solid. She has wisely allowed their youthfulness to carry the poignancy of the story rather than using a heavy-handed, melodramatic approach. As mentioned, transitions have to be smoothed out, but the pace of the play is tight and moves well.
Adam Stockhausen's sets are economically created with minimal furnishings and simple backdrops. They are complemented by the lighting of Chris Lee, Linda Cho's appropriate costuming and Original music by Lewis Flinn.
The Notebook is a small play filled with wisdom and potential.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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