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A CurtainUp Review
Rocket to the Moon
We may safely assume that this play about one timid man's fear of creating a new life for himself is not really all that dated. One of the more formidable, socially conscious and lauded playwrights of his era, Odets had changed his focus in 1938 from the far more political plays that brought him early fame to embracing themes on a more personal nature with Rocket to the Moon leading this trend.
Not as highly regarded as many in Odets canon, Rocket to the Moon is essentially a romantic allegory about a man with principles, but without much pluck. Happily, this play has earned more respect over the years without dethroning such stunning earlier works as Waiting For Lefty and Awake and Sing , or diminishing our continued affection for his probably most popular and successful The Country Girl
It is good to report that an empowering thrust of energy, mainly the result of some very fine acting under the sturdy direction of Dan Wackerman, has helped to navigate a safe and sound landing for this Rocket at the Theater at St.Clement's courtesy of the Peccadillo Theater Co (in association with La Femme Theatre Productions).
All of the action takes place in the waiting room of a dentist's office (designed by Harry Feiner with an eye for the basic necessities of this charmless location by) during a sweltering summer heat-wave. There is, as expected from Odets, an in-and-out flow of recognizable, by right of their being typical, working class Manhattan-ites. Best of all, there is the constant exchange of wonderfully down-to-earth, humorously naturalistic dialogue that is Odets' forte.
The determination with which Ben (Ned Eisenberg) its forty year-old stuck-in-the-mud hero/dentist by profession, resists altering either the stagnating course of his career or the stultifying realities of his marriage is as defensible to him as it now seems deplorable to us in the 21st century. Odets leaves it to the supporting characters to serve as purveyors for change and as perpetrators of the play's quasi romantic convolutions.
Eisenberg effectively captures Ben's meek and mild nature, even as our empathy and patience are apt to wane as much in the light of his professional immobility as with his personal inability to commit to a May-December romance. Business stinks, attested also by the failure of another married dentist Phil Cooper (a forlorn and frantic performance by Larry Bull) who rents space in the suite, to come up with his share for the past three months.
In evidence is the boredom and predictability of Ben's marriage to the bossy and ever-badgering Belle. Marilyn Matarrese registers strongly with a terrifically take-charge/no-nonsense presence as the shrewish wife. An escape route appears by way of two slightly incredulous but entertaining characters. The first being Ben's widowed father-in-law Mr. Prince (Jonathan Hadary) a fashionably dressed man of means who, while estranged from his abrasive daughter Belle, is fond enough of Ben to want to back him in a move to a more prestigious location. He also goads Ben ("Take a rocket to the moon and explode") about his being stubbornly resigned to Milquetoast-dom. Theater veteran Hadary appears to be having fun as the sporting Mr. Prince, who proves a full beard is no barrier to his gingerly offered words of wisdom.
The other, and the primary catalyst for change in Ben's life is Cleo (Katie McClellan), a pretty, naive and lonely secretary ("I know I'm talented but I don't know for what I'm talented.") who presumably falls in love with the feckless Ben at the same time that she captures the heart of the mischievously amorous and enviably adventurous Mr. Prince. . . all under the ever suspicious nose of an increasingly desperate and despairing Belle. Other nosy nuisances include "Frenchie," a smart-alecky podiatrist with an adjoining office, as played with an affected sneer by Michael Keyloun, and a lecherous choreographer as played with a perpetual leer by Lou Liberatore.
The touching resolve, as it affects Ben, is no great shakes and comes as no great surprise. Nevertheless, Rocket to the Moon makes its soft landing with a determination to touch our hearts as well as test our conscience. It does.