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Oh, The Innocents

by Rich See

Will you marry me again and turn back time?
---Betsy sings to her husband Jeremy

Liz Mamana as Betsy, Eric Sutton as Josh, and Peter Wylie as Jeremy
L. Mamana, E. Sutton and P. Wylie
(Photo: Stan Barouh)

For a bit of home grown theatre that pulls in the streetscapes of Washington, DC check out Theater J's newest production Oh, The Innocents. It's a humorous, uplifting production perfect to escape the summer heat and humidity.

The plot line is a "what happens after boy meets girl and they get married?" kind of thing mixed with comments about the music industry. In short, Jeremy and Betsy are married twenty-six-year-old's living in DC's Eastern Market. Musical artist hopefuls, they are living life like retro 1960's beatniks, talking about their convictions, the purity of their love, making honest music together, and being "in sync" with one another. During the day Jeremy teaches piano and Betsy works on the Hill; in the evenings they perform at local clubs. Jeremy's best friend Joshua, whom he attended Julliard with, is a man whose life seems to have stopped. He lives in an empty apartment, spends his days at a job he doesn't enjoy, has quit playing music altogether, and secretly longs for Betsy. Meanwhile, Alex, the ultra-wealthy mother of one Jeremy's piano students, has her eyes set on Jeremy. Bored in her marriage, not very happy being a mother to two children, and twelve years his senior, she is not afraid to go after what she wants. Once Zev, the wolf-like record producer makes his entrance, Jeremy and Betsy's purity, love, music, and convictions begin to unravel as these "innocents'" eyes are opened up to their own imperfections and shortsightedness.

Written and directed by the theatre's Artistic Director, Ari Roth, Oh, The Innocents was first produced in Rochester, NY as a one act and set in New York City's Brooklyn Heights and Upper East Side neighborhoods. That was fourteen years ago and in the interim, Roth has updated and expanded the play, added his own music, and moved the action to Adams-Morgan, Eastern Market, and Potomac, MD. And with this production he is making his DC directorial debut. For his move into Washington's circle of directors he has made a good choice by choosing his own material. It's very apparent that he loves this show, has pulled together a dedicated cast and production team, and has a personal interest in its success.

Daniel Conway's set is a Washington dream apartment in the making. Three tiers with light hard wood floors, grayish brick walls, and mesh screens; incorporating futons, a piano, armchair, and a replica of local coffee house Tryst's bar. The back walls slide away to reveal different outdoor scenes and to pull The Musician (played by Music Director Steve McWilliams) into the action. Jason Arnold's lighting uses the wood and mesh of the set to reflect a variety of golds, pinks, and blues. Susan Chiang's costumes hit the mark. Jeremy is constantly dressed in denim, Joshua in suits to reflect his bank job, Betsy's clothes change from Act One to Act Two to showcase the difference between her inner and outer selves, while Alex's outfits cover the range for a wealthy socialite, and daughter Laurel looks like a spoiled rich kid.

The entire cast is quite enjoyable. Peter Wylie who plays Jeremy (and who coincidentally looks like a younger version of Mr. Roth) is endearing as the naïve husband who seems to mature before our eyes. Liz Mamana (Betsy) has a wonderful voice and shows her character's conflicted nature at loving her husband but feeling stifled by her marriage. Eric Sutton is wonderfully funny as Joshua. Lucy Newman-Williams brings Alex' humor and assertiveness to the fore. She and Mr. Sutton have some of the funniest lines in the play. Lindsay Spencer's portrayal of the spoiled and pampered Laurel is on mark. And Dan Via brings an interesting balance to Zev. While he is constantly being portrayed as reptilian-like by the three friends for his aggressive ways, his real threat seems to be simply in his bringing an element of realism into their lives.

At two and half hours Oh, The Innocents runs a little on the long side, but never seems to lag too much. The writing is at times vague and conflicting. For example, Jeremy and Betsy make several religious-based comments, yet in no other way are they shown to be religious-oriented. At another point, Betsy talks about their holy home and then admonishes Jeremy not to bring his work issues into the house, while at the same time she is doing office work in their bed. Still at another point, Alex seems to be calling Jeremy, but then Jeremy is admitting that he called Alex. The confusion might be due to Oh, The Innocents' interruptive dialogue style which can be distracting. The actors speaking over one another makes it hard at times to understand what is being said and the lack of complete sentences can lead you to miss parts of the plot -- Did Jeremy have sex with Alex or did he just kiss her? And while all the difficulties are wrapped up with a song, that's pretty much how musicals -- or plays' with music, as this is billed, -- work. So while not perfect, the play's lightness, the good music, and the cast's talent make the whole experience an enjoyable evening out.

Oh, The Innocents
by Ari Roth
Original music by Ari Roth and Steve McWilliams
Directed by Ari Roth
Musical Director: Steve McWilliams
with Peter Wylie, Eric Sutton, Liz Mamana, Lucy Newman-Williams, Lindsay Spencer, Dan Via, Steve McWilliams
Set Design: Daniel Conway
Lighting Design: Jason Arnold
Costume Design: Susan Chiang
Sound Design: Matt Rowe
Properties: Dale R. Nadel
Keyboard: Jenny Cartney
Bass: Mike Kozemchak
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with 1 intermission
A production of Theater J
Washington DC Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th Street NW
Telephone: Tickets 1-800-494-8497, Info 202-777-3229
WED - THUR @7:30, SAT @8, SUN @3 and 7:30; $15-$35
Opening 06/26/04, closing 08/01/04
Reviewed by Rich See based on 07/03/04 performance
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