Benchley Despite Himself
Also see Tracy's review of The Silent Woman
One look at Nat Benchley and there is no denying his heritage. Traces of his grandfather are evident in his face. Benchley's grandfather was Robert Benchley, who made his mark as a performer, writer and member of the infamous Algonquin Round Table.
Nat Benchley has delved into his grandfather's past in order to create Benchley Despite Himself. The one-man show, which is being presented by The American Century Theater, is currently playing at Theater On The Run in Virginia. The intimate space is a good fit for this enjoyable little show.
Benchley Despite Himself tries to be casual in its approach. The set is comprised of worn furniture that includes a weathered writing desk on which an old fashioned typewriter rests. Photos of the elder Benchley are scattered throughout the set, as well as two wonderful Hirschfeld drawings.
Benchley takes a conversational tone as he discusses his grandfather's heartbreaks and successes. As he outlines the events of Robert's life, he occasionally stops to re-create one of his grandfather's pieces. Benchley also spends a great deal of time focused on Robert's famous friends such as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. It is at these moments where the younger Benchley is the strongest.
Benchley is quite funny when acting out Robert's work. However, he doesn't always hit the mark with this material. Nonetheless, Mr. Benchley is a fine actor and carries the show quite well.
The script does have some structural problems. At times it doesn't flow as well as it could, and the emphasis on Robert Benchley's friends takes the focus away from the man himself. Although the stories about the witty group are highly entertaining, the central elements of the show are never explored in depth.
Still, the material is very funny and the direction by Nick Olcott is subtle and quite nice. In the end, Benchley Despite Himself is a rather endearing piece of theater. Benchley Despite Himself runs through March 1st.
Theater On The Run