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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone?

And if anybody wants me now. . .tell them my name was Tommy Flowers. Tell them I was a prince.

Cranwell Resort

Brian Weaver as Tommy  Flowers
Brian Weaver as Tommy Flowers
(Photo: Kevin Sprague )
When the Berkshire Theatre Festival presented Where Is Tommy Flowers? in 1971 at its old Unicorn Theatre, it was giving an airing to a still emerging playwright, thirty-two-year-old Terrence McNally. That production of the through a glass darkly comedy about an irrepressible social rebel went on to New York's now defunct East Side Playhouse where it ran for 71 performances. Not exactly a hit, but this and the BTF production helped to propel McNally to an illustrious career that included a string of hits such as Master Class and Frankie and Johnny at the Claire de Lune.

While playwrights tend to be fond of their "baby" plays, I'm not sure that giving this thirty-five-year-old work another go-round is as worthy as was nurturing it in the infancy of McNally's career. Sure, you can say the story of a rebel without much of a cause except disenchantment with his social milieu has relevance today. But, though disenchanted youths are never really out of style, at a time when the disenchanted populace includes plenty of conformist older citizens, this story seems trivial.

At best, Tommy's saga of living the slacker's alternative life style (free shelter and meals courtesy of accommodating women, shoplifting and using cheap tricks to get out of paying restaurant bills) is a sixty minute sketch interesting mostly for its nostalgic images and sounds of a by-gone era. At 2 1/2 hours it seems endless.

The script does allow director E. Gray Simons III to give a large group of BTF summer interns a chance to be on stage. It also allows Brian Weaver, the lead actor, a chance to make up for his silent servant's role in the previous Unicorn play, The Illusion. And boy, does he ever. I left this much too long production exhausted by his motor-mouthed, self-indulgent hippie.

Not having seen the long ago Tommy Flowers either at BTF or Off-Broadway, I can't say if those production left you with less of a who-cares-where-Tommy went feeling. For sure, this staging with its lack of editing and Weaver's way too precociously cute Tommy did little to support the play's retrieval from the theatrical attic where so-so plays are stored. Another early, but vastly better and more enjoyable McNally play, The Lisbon Traviata, might have been a better choice for this Unicorn season.

Sarah Kauffman as Tommy's mother, Robert Serrell as a homeless man named Ben Delight and Morgan Cox as a young cellist he picks up on a shoplifting expedition to Bloomingdale's do better with their roles than Weaver. Tommy's journey from bright-eyed new New Yorker to not-so-bright-eyed and poorly motivated exit begins with an amusing opening monologue in which he introduces himself by dedicating the first act not only to his family but an exhaustive list of people anyone familiar with the Beatle era's headline names. Quite a few of these well-known cultural references are part of Ian Zywica's colorful bi-level scenic design. Some, like Marilyn Monroe, get to be part of the play. Theatrical as some of this sounds, the conceit of Tommy as a symbol of his era's lost flower children quickly wears thin. As played by Weaver he is not only tiresome but totally unsympathetic.

Mr. McNally's original production notes show a young playwright willing to accommodate any budget and directorial taste. Mr. Simon's large cast with Tommy's dog portrayed by a human is one option suggested. A smaller cast with more role doubling and a real dog is another. Perhaps with less busy cast (as was the case with the Off-Broadway production) we might understand Tommy's journey to nowhere better and care more about what happened to him. As for Arnold the dog. . .while Nicole Marquez tries valiantly to be dog-like, people portraying animals are among this critic's least favorite casting devices, which didn't do much to make my negative reaction more positive.

I've seen some terrific, inventive and edgy plays in this jewel box theater. And, since everyone's entitled to a misfire I haven't given up on expecting and getting the best here. In fact, the promotional copy for the next Unicorn production sounds like just the ticket -- The Pilgrim Players (July 30 to August 26 a brand-new play by Stephen Temperly who wrote the enjoyable Souvenir, and helmed by that play's director, Vivian Matalin

Playwright: Terrence McNally
Directed by E. Gray Simons III
The Cast (in order of appearance): Tommy Flowers-- Brian Weaver; Greta/Tommy's Old Flame -- Hannah Wilson; Tommy's Mother/First Lady -- Sarah Kauffman; Ben Delight -- Robert Serrell; Hack/Manager/Tammy's Nephew/Tommy's Brother -- Ben Rosenblatt; Nedda Lemon -- Morgan Cox; Marilyn Monroe/Waitress/Bunny Barnum -- Lizzie Thrasher
Ensemble (in alphabetical order): Moderator/Nun -- Kristi Barron; Barmaid/Angel/Gypsy Dancer -- Rebecca Berowski; Woman #2/Nun -- Amber Bowman; Angel/Detention Ward Nurse/Gyspy Dancer -- Katie Edgerton; Miss Subways/Gypsy Dancer-- Laura Ferland; Young Tommy/Woman #4 -- Hesley Harps; Arnold Nicole Marquez -- Man #2/Policeman/Secret Service/Cop; Matt Martin -- Woman #3/Gypsy Dancer; Jessica Perelle -- Announcer's Voice/Nun; Rachel Ilana Salowitz -- Man #I/Cuban Voice/Secret Service; Eli Schneider -- Interviewer/Nun; Alana Renee Waksman
Set Design: Ian Zywica
Costume Designer: Jessica Risser-Milne
Lighting Designer: Dan Kotlowitz
Sound Designer: E. Gray Simons III
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours with intermission
Berkshire Theatre Festival, Unicorn Theater, Stockbridge, MASS. 413-298-5536
From June 28 to July 2, 2006; opening June 29th
Monday to Saturday @ 8pm; Saturdays @2pm
Tickets: $28 to $34
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at June 29th press opening

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