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A CurtainUp Review
Walking Down Broadway
Walking Down Broadway is more a small and very modest gem than a big sparkling diamond. It's a sweet play, worth seeing mostly for its nostalgic, slice-of-life charm. The rather familiar plot revolves around two mid-America small town girls who've come to New York hoping to find romance, adventure, LIFE. They manage to escape the loneliness and boredom of their Manhattan boarding house, but not without losing a chunk of their homespun innocence.
Elsie (Amanda Jones) the bubbly, chubby one, was said to be modeled on Powell, whose own enthusiasm for all the excitement New York had to offer made her refer to herself as a permanent visitor, long after she was in residence long enough to consider herself a true blue New Yorker. But it's Elsie's more serious and less impetuous roommate Marge (Christine Albright) who falls head over heels in love with Chick (Denis Butkus), another small town innocent abroad. New York reveals its darker side as much a city of heartbreak than hope and joie de vivre for these two young lovers.
While the plot is more than a little reminiscent of the creaky sin-suffer-repent formula that once dominated women's magazine stories, Powell's ability to invest the formulaic with heart and color makes for an enjoyable visit with Powell's group of young outsiders with their noses pressed to the window of life as well as some all-knowing insiders who aren't as cool as they seem.
The Mint is fortunate to have Steven Williford of the Lark Theatre Company for which he so ably directed Pera Palas (review) to insure that Ms. Powell's play is a slice of New York life well spiced with pertinent cultural references and the overall flavor of the city circa 1931. He has firmly guided the young, new to the Mint, cast to play their parts broadly but with conviction. Christine Albright and Denis Butkus are charming as the couple caught in the age old trap of an unwanted pregnancy (yes, it did happen even in the days when virginity was still a big deal!). Amanda Jones portrays Elsie with giggly silliness and enough determination to hold on to the style-conscious Dewey (Ben Roberts) even when he's smitten by the girls' older, been-there-done-that neighbor, Eva Elman (Carol Halstead).
Williford has wisely not reigned in Carol Halstead , but allowed her to play Eva, the blase blonde bombshell whose morals are far below reproach but whose heart is solid gold. Eva, who pretty much steals the show and confirms the opinion of those who likened Powell's wit to Dorothy Parker's; for example, when Marge comments that one of Eva's recent and now departed boyfriends was pretty old, Eva wisecracks "well, he still knows what's happening. I don't mind a man being old but I like him to have a few conscious moments" -- and, when Elsie challenges this with "Why don't you say what you mean -- you like 'em rich", Eva counters with "I don't like 'em to break down and sob over a two dollar check." As Eva's gold digger has a heart of gold so Powell (probably in deference to the era's sin and repent code) gives the love-them-but hate-them Mac (another very broadly drawn characterization by Anthony Hagopian) his comeuppance by ultimately giving his long-suffering girl friend Ginger (Sammy Tunis) what she wants.
Unlike most modern presentations which conflate plays written in three acts into two parts. Williford has kept the two intermissions to accommodate Roger Hanna's nicely detailed sets (the girls' digs in acts one and three, and the fellows' apartment in the middle acts). While this seems overly complex for this type of production, I'd suggest staying in your seat during at least one intermission as it's interesting to watch the prop movers at work (all women, probably to go with the all women's plays season). Brenda Turpin's costumes and Jane Shaw's sound design add to the period authenticity.
To conclude, a bit of trivia about the play. The boarding house where Elsie and Marge reside is based on one very similar to the one on West 85th Street where Powell lived when she first came to New York. By the time she wrote Walking Down Broadway, however she was living in the apartment at the 106 Perry Street where she also wrote some of her best known work. And, while this is the play's first stage production, Powell did sell the movie rights to Hollywood for the then princely sum of $7, 500 (more money than she had ever earned from her writing). The movie that resulted, Hello Sister, was directed by Eric von Stroheim but bore little resemblance to the original script.
Finally, you might want to check out our coverage of the 2002 Dawn Powell Festival as well as her many reissued publications, including her trenchant Diaries
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