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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Celebratory World Premiere Production of
Arthur Laurents' New Year's Eve

Also see Bob's review of 1776

New Year's Eve
Marlo Thomas and Walter Belenky
Playwright-librettist-director Arthur Laurents has made the George Street Playhouse his de-facto home theatre throughout this decade.  Prominent among the eight Laurents works which George Street has produced have been several new plays and revivals of two vintage Broadway musicals for which Laurents revised his original book.  George Street Artistic Director David Saint was associate director to Laurents on the current Broadway revival of West Side Story.   Thus, David Saint's world premiere production of Laurents' New Year's Eve with its first rate Broadway cast, elegant physical production, and sharp comic dialogue has the heady feel of a celebratory event.

New Year's Eve follows the shifting emotions in the somewhat intertwined love lives of its protagonists "from one recent New York's Eve to the next."  Largely, we are in the presence of jaded (sophisticated, a less jaded viewer might say) New Yorkers for whom the conventional rules of morality in relationships are of little concern.

The central characters are a theatrical family: Gil (Keith Carradine) and Isabel (Marlo Thomas), both in late middle-age, and their thirty-ish daughter Samantha (Natasha Gregson Wagner). Gil is a very successful playwright; Isabel, a major star actress; and Samantha, a popular actress on TV soaps.  Isabel's career may be winding down, but she is concentrating on finding a star-making stage role for Sam.  Their acolytes are Justin (Peter Frechette) and Mikey (Walter Belenky). Justin, Gil and Isabel's accountant and close friend, has been openly Gil's lover for the past decade. The accommodating Isabel blandly notes that "it makes him happy."  Mikey is Sam's younger unaccomplished, hunky boyfriend who often baby sits for the single parent Sam.  Strains in their relationship arise when Gil and Isabel mistakenly conclude that Justin and Mikey are having an affair, angering Justin with their accusations.  Furthermore, when he discovers that he has colon cancer, Justin re-evaluates his relationships.

Laurents' discursive new serious comedy New Year's Eve does not find its 91-year-old author at the top of his form. However, it does provide meaty roles for its cast, and a pleasing high-style theatrical setting.  Keith Carradine brings a quietly distinguished manner to Gil, who acts with decency and consideration but is more concerned about maintaining unruffled waters for himself than with the needs of others.  Marlo Thomas' Isabel has an imperviousness not usually associated with her professional persona. Thomas impeccably conveys in full the confident humor of Laurents' Isabel.  Natasha Gregson Wagner effortlessly conveys a Sam who is in transition.  Wagner moves in a realistically wavering pattern from being a down to earth, modern, urban young woman toward embracing the hauteur of theatrical royalty.  It might interest you to know that Wagner is the daughter of Natalie Wood.

Peter Frechette delivers an interesting, carefully modulated performance as Justin.  However, Justin's emotions and motivations are not well defined in the writing.  Walter Belenky performs satisfactorily as Mikey.  As written by Laurents, Mikey is a cipher.  The fact that Mikey is one of two characters in the final scene contributes to the weakness of the final scene.

David Saint has directed smoothly and elicited fine performances.  The set design by James Youmans is elegant and playable, cleverly depicting the relative financial and social status and appointments of the three apartments in which the play transpires.

New Year's Eve will well satisfy the large audience which the new Arthur Laurents play and its well known stars are attracting to the New Brunswick theatre.

New Year's Eve continues performances (Evenings Tuesday-Saturday 8 p.m. / Sunday 7 p.m. (except 5/10)/ Matinees: 2 p.m. Thursday, Saturday, Sunday (except 4/30),) through May 10, 2009 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901; Box Office: 732-246-7717 ; online: www.GSPonline.org.

 

New Year's Eve by Arthur Laurents; directed by David Saint

Cast
Isabel……………………….Marlo Thomas
Gil…………………………Keith Carradine
Justin……………………..Peter Frechette
Samantha……Natasha Gregson Wagner
Mikey……………………….Walter Belenky
   


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


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- Bob Rendell



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