Regional Reviews: New Jersey
World Premiere The Other Side of Newark:
Solid, intelligent storytelling is the hallmark of The Other Side of Newark, a new play by Enid Rudd currently being presented in its world premiere production at Montclair's Luna Stage.
For solid old fashioned storytelling, a journey back to a specific time and place, valuable social commentary, a fascinating three dimensional heroine, and characters whom you will care about, The Other Side of Newark provides a most satisfying evening in the theatre.
The time is the middle 1930s in the city of Newark, New Jersey. It is the first day on the job for Rose Alcott, who has obtained employment as a school teacher in a decaying elementary school with a largely black student body.
Eventually, as the story advances into the 1950s, the close, loving relationship that has been established between Rose and the now adult Dinah is shattered by Rose's inability to overcome her internalized societal racial prejudice at a crucial moment.
Luna Stage has given The Other Side of Newark an exemplary production. It would not be possible to overpraise Antoinette Doherty's performance. She is phenomenally uncanny in creating the look, speech mannerisms, and body movement that commonly characterize women of her era, background and status. Doherty is totally convincing in conveying a wide range of broad emotions while unerringly modulating the subtle shifts in Rose's basic character. Wow.
Playwright Rudd may have created a too good to be true hero in Alan Tremont, but Kirk Mouser is truly very good in the role. There is an easygoing, totally likeable naturalness to his portrayal.
Dana Jones is an appealing "Young Dinah." A senior at Montclair High School who is planning to be a musical theater major in college, she delivers a totally professional, disciplined performance in a crucial and difficult role.
The "Adult Dinah" is sensitively portrayed by Chantel Jean-Pierre. The veteran Kenneth Boys is solid in the peripheral role of a doctor.
The Luna Stage's seating and playing areas are reordered as appropriate for each production. For The Other Side of Newark, the audience is seated on two adjacent sides of a large rectangular stage. Scenic Designer J. Wiese's evocative, richly detailed set of the elementary school's teachers lounge, which converts to a full hospital room set, is ingenious and pleasing. Smaller areas effectively represent two other locations. Mary Ann Hoag's lighting design is first rate.
Amy Ritchings' costumes are appropriate to each period in which the play is set. Her costumes for Antoinette Doherty are especially effective in defining Rose's character.
Mining and developing all these goodies is director (and Luna Stage artistic director) Jane Mandel. Mandel perfectly blends each performance and design element into a seamless whole.
There is a prologue and an epilogue each of which is set in a Newark hospital in the 1980s. The prologue distractingly foreshadows developments which we should be permitted to freshly discover as the play progresses. The epilogue is bathetic and adds little to our knowledge of the characters. Possibly, these scenes could be replaced by short monologues by the adult Dinah. This would amplify the feeling that we are watching a memory play, and increase the centrality of Dinah to the evening's proceedings. Secondary benefits to future productions would be the elimination of both the hospital room set and the role of the doctor whose only appearances are in these scenes.
Enid Rudd has richly larded her play with insights concerning bigotry and human relations which give us much to think about and debate. The overall depth of her writing overrides the few moments when The Other Side of Newark feels preachy or glib.
Rudd's depiction of Alan and his dedication to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War speaks strongly to today's international situation. Rudd makes it clear that those who support the need to confront Islamic radical extremists essentially take the same position as that of the members of the Lincoln Brigade who confronted fascism in Spain.
When Rose tells Alan that the threat of Hitler and his persecution of the Jews will blow over, Alan responds, "There will be no peace in our time until we win."
There is a lot more here, but you will want to hear it in the theatre.
The Other Side of Newark continues performances through February 22, 2004 at the Luna Stage Company, 695 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07042. Box Office: 973-744-3309; online www.lunastage.org
The Other Side of Newark by Enid Rudd; directed by Jane Mandel. Cast: (in alphabetical order): Kenneth Boys (Dr. Lenn); Antoinette Doherty (Rose Alcott); Chantal Jean-Pierre (Adult Dinah); Dana Jones (Young Dinah); Kirk Mouser (Alan Tremont).
Photo: E J Carr