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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Charming Billy
Guest reviewer Tracy Danoff

The title character in Charming Billy is not as charming as the moniker suggests. He is not without charm—he is more like charm-light. Based on Alice McDermott's National Book Award winner, Charming Billy looks in on a funeral party as they recount the life of Billy Lynch, a hard-drinking dreamer who captivates his friends and family while living with a consuming heartbreak.

Whether it is the authentic looking Bronx bar designed by Kevin Rigdon or the rather predictable plot, the whole play feels very familiar. Despite that feeling, it is unsatisfying. The charismatic character that the title suggests never shows up, and a wonderful set and a simulated rain storm do not make up for the unevenness of the piece.

David Whalen as Billy seems to just miss the mark. His Bronx accent comes and goes, and it is quite distracting. He does have a few good moments but much of his performance lacks the vitality needed for this role. It is only when he displays his despair that the character actually works.

The lackluster portrayal is not completely Whalen's fault. Blake Robison's adaptation is flat and at times unclear. Also, his directorial choices don't always seem to make sense. Robison did do a good job with the character of Dennis, Billy's devoted cousin. Dennis is fleshed out, real and beautifully played by John Feltch. It is a shame he didn't craft Billy with the same attention.

The remaining cast is also very skilled and works well with what they are given. Amy McWilliams is especially good as Bridie, one of the better written characters in the show. Additionally, Kathryn Kelley (Kate) and Mitchell Hébert (Dan) turn in solid performances as Billy's siblings.

However, it is Conrad Feininger (Holtzman/Uncle) who really flexes his acting muscles. As Holtzman, the German shoe store owner, Feininger has little stage time. In that brief period of time, the actor conveys who his character is as a business owner, as a stepfather and as a man.

There are some other elements of the production that do work. Kevin Rigdon's lighting projects the right mood for the setting, and Matthew W. Nielson's sound adds to the play's authenticity. Also, Trish Rigdon's costumes do an excellent job of expressing the characters' personalities and capturing the setting and tone of the piece.

Overall, Charming Billy is not a bad play—it's just not a great one. Billy could have been a Pied Piper of sorts. Unfortunately, his tune is nice but slightly off key.

Charming Billy is currently playing at Round House Theatre. It has been held over until February 27th.

Round House Theatre
Charming Billy
February 2nd - February 27th
Adapted and Directed by Blake Robison
From the novel by Alice McDermott
Billy Lynch: David Whalen
Dennis: John Feltch
Dan Lynch: Mitchell Hébert
Maeve: Julie-Ann Elliott
Kate: Kathryn Kelley
Bridie: Amy McWilliams
Eva: Molly Cahill Govern
Rosemary: Kate Guesman
Monsignor/Father/Barkeep: Michael Tolaydo
Holtzman/Uncle: Conrad Feininger
Mary/Waitress: Brianna Letourneau
Children: Talia Silber, Erin Jacobs, Joey Wolf
Family: Kathie Mack, Jane Papish
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
Ticket Info: call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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