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A CurtainUp Review
Rollo's Wild Oat
Something quite outside myself seems telling me that it's a tremendous moment. A moment so many must have gone through. I suppose because a tremendous man provided it for us. When I read his lines, I find I am singing them. — Rollo
Rollo's Wild Oat
(Photo: )
With a sincere effort to give credit where it is due, as well as to extend admiration for the Metropolitan Playhouse and its mission to find and produce vintage plays of worth, I am also sorry to report that they have failed to give the 1920 comedy Rollo's Wild Oat by Clare Beecher Kummer (1873 - 1958) its due. I suspect that it is a funny play in which zany characters abound. But in this instance, it never rebounds from lackluster staging and from performances that are flat and/or listless.

This is a shame as the Metropolitan's previous production of Icebound made me eager to return to the garret-like theater on the lower East Side. A staircase leads to a few rows of stadium seating that rise on three sides of the playing area. There are no reserved seats, so you better get your spot early near the stairway before they open the door.

Rollo's Wild Oat did increase my interest in Kummer whose Broadway productions included 12 plays, 10 one-acts, and 5 musicals.

An accomplished songwriter and grand-niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Kummer was noted in her time for her "sparkling dialogue and contrived plots," evidence of which can be found in this curiously contrived lark about a self-indulgent young man of means who is determined to produce a production of Hamlet on Broadway, in which (you guessed it) he will play the title role.

The play is structured with a series of vaguely comedic incidents that take place off stage, back stage and on stage, all of which invite lots of pretentious posturing by the cast. Misguided poseurs they may be as I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of director Michael Hardart who seems to have forgotten that a comedy should not be an endurance contest for the audience. Originally performed in three-acts, Rollo's Wild Oat is now played in two still too lengthy acts with its six scenes divided between Rollo's Central Park West studio, back stage and on-stage at the Oddity Theater, and at Rollo's family home. Kevin Sebastian plays Rollo with a strangely self-possessed resolve that gets more interesting as the play sees him sojourne to a New York City studio apartment, with plenty of money and an obliging, stiff-necked manservant Hewston (Joe Joyce) in tow.

Leave it to small time, eager to comply theatrical agent Abie Stein (Mac Brydon) to round up a troupe of third-rate Shakespeareans who are quick to show their displeasure with the pre-casting of pretty and demure to point of being dim Goldie (Erica Knight) to play Ophelia. Kept in the dark, they also don't know that the vivacious Lydia (Alexis Hyatt) who has been cast as Prologue is Rollo's sister. Kummer's plot becomes increasingly complicated with far-fetched, fate-fulfilling revelations. Add the blossoming of two unlikely romances as we go from rehearsals to the actual bedlam-bedecked performance of Hamlet in full Elizabethan regalia (nice work by Sidney Forter).

To tie up all the loose ends, there is that grumpy old man Rollo's father (David Licht) whose own back-story helps bring an end to incredulous opening night. In some ways, and when it's funny, you could say that Rollo's Wild Oat is a forerunner of Noises Offf, but that's praise that hopefully will come from audiences as the pace and the performances pick up in future performances.

Rollo's Wild Oat by Claire Beecher Kummer
Directed by Michael Hardart

Cast: Joe Joyce (Hewston), Alexis Hyatt (Lydia Webster), Kevin Sebastian (Rollo Webster), Mac Bryon (Abie Stein), Erica Knight (Goldie MacDuff), Gary Lizardo (Whortley Camperdown), Page Clements (Mrs. Park Gales), David Licht (Thomas Skitterling, Horatio), Timothy C. Goodwin (George Lucas), Wendy Merritt (Aunt Lane)
Set Designer: No Credit
Stage Manager: William Vann Carlton
Production Intern: Jessica Doherty
Costume Design: Sidney Fortner
Lighting Design: Christopher Westonn
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes including intermission
Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 East 4th Street,
General Admission: $25; $20 students/seniors, and $10 children under 18
Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 3 pm.
From 11/20/14 Opened 11/28/14 Ends 12/20/14
Review by Simon Saltzman
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