Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Pleasant, Good Natured One of Your Biggest Fans
Each one gets to play two roles in this one act, three scene, four character comic trifle. The first scene is set in the Manhattan apartment of Frank Maxwell, an actor who has spent the last thirty-six years as the affable "Dr. Dan" on a television soap opera. A classically trained actor, Frank, winner of sixdaytime, he disdainfully notesEmmys is bitter and unhappy, both because of the nature of his employment and the fact that his role in the soap has of late been severely truncated. Frank shares his apartment and life with the middle-aged Emily, whom he met when she worked as a make-up artist on the soap (she was fired for fraternizing with him). Emily is totally devoted to Frank. However, he will not marry her because of the sour memory of his failed marriage (Frank has an adult daughter from whom he is estranged). Frank does care for Emily, but he is wrapped up in himself and treats her more as a housekeeper than a wife. Going through his fan mail, Emily finds a needy letter from Heather, a defeated woman mistreated by her brother and ailing father, whose life is a total mess. Heather finds great comfort in "Dr. Dan." Conflating Frank with his role, she writes of her problems, seeking words of guidance and solace from him. Frank rejects Emily's exhortations to answer the letter, but when the sympathetic Emily goes off with it, it is clear that she will be responding to it in his name.
The second scene shifts to the small bedroom of an assisted living facility in a fictional, stifling town, oxymoronically named Old Newbury. Here, the sarcastic but caring Heather is visiting Dad, her complaining, unappreciative father. Upon reading the empathetic letter written to her by Emily in Frank's name, her broken spirit is aroused. The action switches back to the New York apartment for the third and final scene.
The conclusion of One of Your Biggest Fans is abrupt and unsatisfying. The contextual meaning of the final poetic lines will be unclear to at least those audience members who fail to recognize that they are those of William Shakespeare (the end of Prospero's epilogue which concludes The Tempest).
Winnie Holzman's most notable successes have been as a writer. She authored the book for the smash Broadway musical Wicked and has created and written several television series. In this instance, it is as an actress that Holzman most impresses. She has a scintillating stage persona. As One of Your Biggest Fans makes clear, confusing actors with their roles is not smart. However, as Emily, Holzman is so effortlessly winning that she makes us believe that she is playing her delightful self. Her Emily is not without unfulfilled needs, but she will not let that fact undermine her sense of humor or loving concern for others. As Heather, Holzman is brusquely comedic and thorny. Yet, Holzman neatly conveys Heather's warmth when appropriate.
Paul Dooley, a world class expert at playing curmudgeonly roles, is clearly at home in both of his roles here. Both Frank and Dad have the ability to amuse, which makes them entertaining to audiences. It should be noted that there is more than one way to play a curmudgeon, and Dooley sharply delineates the differences in sophistication, status, and situation between his two roles.
Director Larry Biederman works with so light a touch that we are barely aware of the presence of his directorial hand. The entire evening feels as if it is the work of Dooley/Holzman. It must take considerable sleight of hand for Biederman to achieve this. The set by James Youmans is attractive and cleverly converts from one location to the other.
Winnie Holzman delivers Heather's sarcastic response to her brother's annoying text message which again seeks her assurance that she has correctly made a restaurant reservation with comic timing and inflections that are spot-on hilarious. Holzman makes it particularly clear here that she has the talent to be among the finest of stage comediennes. Serendipity would be to have some wise producer cast her and Paul Dooley in a revival of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker.
One of Your Biggest Fans continues performances through February 23 (Evenings: Wednesday - Saturday 8 pm / Sunday 7 pm (except 2/16)/ Matinees: Saturday and Sunday 2 pm at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, N.J. 08901; Box Office: 732-246-7717; Online: www.GSPonline.org.
One of Your Biggest Fans written by Paul Dooley and Winnie Holzman; directed by Larry Biederman