Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Long Island Sound
Also see Richard's review of Oklahoma!
Let's suppose for a moment that you didn't actually strike it rich on Broadway, but that you did spend years honing your theatrical talents. And that you hate to let it go entirely to waste, even if it means racing out of work every night, through the hamburger stand, and off to rehearse in some relatively obscure theater ... only to collapse into bed four or five hours later and do it all again the next day. We may no longer be a nation that bowls together, but for many Americans the risk-taking world of amateur theater is far more compelling, and a darned sight cheaper.
In St. Louis, this avocation has saved many an American from an empty life before the TV set, and yielded dozens of very active theater groups. And one of these exists solely to reunite its various actors with their high school brethren once a year.
The venerable Bishop DuBourg's High School Alumni Association hoists the banner of the 1947 comedy Long Island Sound for its annual collaboration, with 21 speaking roles (and two butlers). It's a good, solid production of a play that waited some 50 years for its first staging in New York. Now, in its Midwestern premiere, most of the actors do well, a few are standouts and one is far above the rest.
The play itself is very blurry in the plot department and today, if it were a film, we would probably call it "Altmanesque." Long Island Sound has a constantly roving center of attention, and mere bits and pieces of story hit the windshield along the way. In short, Louise Steinhauser (the unhappily married hostess of a Long Island mansion) cozies up to a couple of her male guests, including a very famous young novelist. Hilarity, hot tempers and heavy drinking ensue.
Debi Vendt-Katich plays the romance-starved hostess with understated realism, and Mike Gravagna stars as the visiting English novelist (Evan Lorrimer). He is pursued by Mrs. Steinhauser and various houseguests, including the flamboyant stage actor Lester Gaige (played by Bill Lux). Mr. Gravagna is exceptionally good, and Mr. Lux does well goading him on. There are plenty of laughs in the script, and probably 50% of them belong to Mr. Lux, to our good fortune.
A steady stream of guests arrive, including the rail-thin beauty Delia Hitchcock (played by Rachel Kraus). It's hard to say how much credit goes to Ms. Kraus in the role, with her limpid eyes and husky voice, and how much to Noel Coward. But watching her is rather like looking down a long hall, and knowing that something amazing is going on behind every doorway.
Her stage-husband (Bill Hennessey) is another target of the hostess' affections, so Delia can wrestle silently with pain and jealousy, while most of the others on the crowded stage exchange bon mots about Mary Baker Eddy and Forever Amber. Most of the other characters have little to push against, and seem wan by comparison. Probably as a result, Delia's final dust-up (on a rebellious Oriental rug) proves to be the show's most astonishing explosion. .
Coward also trots out an amusing Russian drunk (Kelly Flavin-Koth) along with his recurring character, a matinee idol named Don Lucas (the funny and charming Randy Lutz). And Adrienne Behlke-Gleeson is highly impressive as a volcanic Broadway diva.
One of the sisters at this Catholic high school has been enlisted to play a fearsome old dragon, and Sr. Barbara Schlatter alternately breathes fire and Chanel #5 as Mrs. Grouper. The remainder of the cast are generally smart but shallow New Yorkers, which doesn't give an actor much to play with. Happily, director MaryBeth Scherr-Babcock maintains an excellent pace, allowing only the slightest gap between jokes.
It's actually a tricky matter to play "the rich," or even "on the fringes of." So much of their perpetual game of status-seeking goes on in the invisible realm, and most of that isn't even implied in this script. Here, with barely a thread to hang by (in terms of plot) Coward and his actors get along on their wit (which is considerable) and our eventual moral outrage at the unending frivolity.
Long Island Sound played through June 24th, 2007 at Bishop DuBourg High School, 5850 Eichelberger.