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A CurtainUp Review
Roses In December
By Elyse Sommer
The positioning of the actors' pictures is, however, symbolically correct While Carolyn Meyers and Joel Gordon don't come within touching distance, they nevertheless forge a meaningful relationship through their extended correspondence. Their snail mail missives begin as brief notes that build in length and meaning. He rationalizes his first reluctant answer with "anyone who uses the words 'agog' and 'folderol' deserves an answer " -- she defends her persistence as not being that of " a journalist or a gossip monger" but slyly asks "is there a difference?" As the letters grow longer and more revelatory, he, though clearly enjoying it, describes himself as feeling "like Charles Dickens with an eager public awating the next installment").
Mr. Cahn follows in the footsteps of many playwrights who have successfully used letter writing to depict and deepen friendships and love affairs. Think A. R. Gurney's Love Letters and Helen Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road, Jerome Kilty's Dear Liar -- and just this week, Anto Howard's Scattergood ( My Review), another new play in which letters and matters of honor are pivotal). Roses has the same endearing charms of some of its predecessors and is additionally something of a detective story, albeit a literary one.
Without giving away too much, the detective is Carolyn Meyers and her quarry is the interview and publicity shy Joel Gordon. Though amiable and respectful, this "detective" is as relentless as Hugo's Inspector Javert, first in trying to Persuade Gold to attend a college alumni weekend and later to clarify increasingly puzzling facts that come to light in connection with an article she's writing about him for her Ph.D -- especially the unpublished story from which the play takes its title. That story is in turn inspired by a J. M. Barrie quotation.
Thanks to the many amusing turns of phrase, T. L. Reilly's smooth direction and Naughton and Naughton's fit-like-a-glove interaction (a first on-stage pairing of father and daughter), the characters evolve into richly nuanced portraits. As a bonus, the playwright also fleshes out Carolyn's parents sufficiently to let them emerge as more than sketchy background figures.
The actors, as in Love Letters, work with script in hand which may make this sound like a glorified reading. Though Roses could indeed work without scenery, Roman J. Tatarowicz's book-covered set with its handsome matching desk and chairs adds immeasurably to the pleasures of this production, as does the dazzlingly gorgeous piano score by Sergei Dreznin. Whether given this kind of loving production or not, make no mistake about it, this is a real play with a definite plot arc; and, as befits the detective story aura, there's a nifty twist to bring it all to a satisfactory conclusion.
The busy Mr. Naughton will turn his role over to Victor Slezak for the rest of this limited run. While there's something special in seeing Naughton and his daughter perform together and their real life relationship adds a certain piquancy to some lines, Slezak is a better than capable actor. It's easy to picture him as Joel Gordon -- as it's easy to see Roses in December blossom into many productions on other small stages.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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