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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

The Last Days of Mickey and Jean
New Comedy by Richard Dresser

Also see Bob's reviews of Newsies

In his immensely popular comedy Rounding Third, playwright Richard Dresser demonstrates his skill at smoothly blending comedy and pathos in an easily and highly entertaining play featuring characters with whom audiences can readily identify. In his promising new play, The Last Days of Mickey and Jean, Dresser is mining a similar esthetic and, while the blend is not yet smooth, the elements that have made Rounding Third so successful are evident in this promising piece.

The setting is a hotel room in Paris and its environs. Mickey and Jean are a couple in late middle age. They are not married, but their relationship predates Mickey's three failed marriages. They are Irish Southies from Boston, on vacation visiting museums and stuff. They have been on vacation, living in hotel rooms, for seven years. The extreme and constant physical closeness imposed on them by their situation has had a corrosive effect on their relationship. Mickey is a hypochondriac, and fearful of a Fiat that he has seen driving repeatedly around the hotel ("they're closing in, waiting to make their move"). Both are anxious to return home. Mickey wants to get back to work; Jean wants to see her sister and nephew.

The details of their lives and situation are parceled out to us in small doses. The overall tone is comedic, even farcical, but there are concerns which emerge that are poignant and universal. We realize early on that Mickey is hiding from a seriously criminal past, but then Dresser misdirects us by portraying the characters behaving in a manner which is antithetical to such a history. This situation is repeated several times before we learn for certain that Mickey is an organized crime hit man on the run from prosecution. We feel confused by the dichotomies between their history and personas rather than finding ourselves entertained and/or pleasantly deceived. However, the humor is plentiful and more often than not hits the mark. The closer that it is to character the better it is. As the play begins, a bored Mickey is complaining about the time it is taking Jean to dress for their outing to a museum. Jean asks him why he is in such a hurry since he doesn't want to go. Mickey responds, "I'd rather go someplace I don't want to go than wait to go."

Bev Sheehan delivers a most delightful turn as Jean. She captures the nuances of an unlettered woman from a hardscrabble place who is a sincere person despite her highly flawed moral code, and a shrewd one despite a lack of formal learning. Duncan Rogers is delightful as the increasingly morose Mickey. Rogers makes it humorously manifest that, deprived of the satisfactions of his horrendous line of work, Mickey's rudderless life is totally dominated by his fears, and his only pleasure comes from making acerbic comments. His "Southie" Boston accent is a particular joy. I would love to see Sheehan take Jean's accent to the extremity of Rogers'. Sheehan has repeatedly demonstrated her comic prowess at What Exit?, where she was Artistic Director, and on other New Jersey stages, so there is no question that she could readily bring it off.

Also on hand in three very varied roles is Oliver Wadsworth. The primary and most central one is that of Bobby, a bank executive (or so he says) who picks up Bobby at a cafe. Bobby has been following Mickey and Jean, and intentions and actions (along with Mickey and Jean's loss of their capital) form the basis for the play's twists and resolutions. Wadsworth is extremely good in this role. However, as a Parisian physician visited by Mickey, his sketch comedy caricature drains humor from a scene which would be much funnier if played more realistically. Wadsworth also plays Tinsel, a hairy and hulky drag queen whom Mickey picks up in a club. Mickey says that he was drunk and the room was dark. This role needs some rethinking from the author and director as well as Wadsworth. It was probably fun to write, direct and perform, but it is a bad fit for this play.

A less broad approach might have allowed The Last Days ... to be more emotionally involving and funnier. However, director John Pietrowski has directed this 80-minute one-act comedy with pace, and elicited excellent performances.

The small, minimal setting of the hotel room (other locations are represented by a bit of furniture and properties) leaves most of the large stage to be covered by a black curtain. Additionally, it is set so far back that it forces too much of the play to be staged downstage. It seems likely that this set was constructed for the Old Castle Theatre in Bennington, Vermont, where this production was presented this past summer. This is a co-production of the Bickford Theatre where it is being presented, director Pietrowski's Playwrights' Theatre (which is presently seeking a new home) and Old Castle. It was first produced last year at the Merrimack Rep in Lowell, Massachusetts, and thereafter revised by Dresser.

It is to the credit of Bickford Artistic Director Eric Hafen and the aforementioned co-producing theatres to have produced a new Richard Dresser play, and it is further to their credit to have given second stages to an interesting and promising new play after its world premiere last year.

Richard Dresser certainly knows how to engage our emotions and tickle our funny bones. With The Last Days of Mickey and Jean, he has come up with a witty and compact little comedy which is pleasantly reminiscent of the more gothic Prizzi's Honor. As it now stands, it is entertaining, but tonally inconsistent and lacking in cohesion.

There is a particularly moving moment at the end of the first scene. Mickey and Jean's time abroad has resulted in their having been cut off from their relationships with family and old friends. Mickey tells Jean that they will have to leave Paris. Jean responds that then she had better bring her camera to the museum in order to take photographs.

Upon reflection, Jean changes her mind:

Jean: Who will look at my pictures? I don't have anyone to look at my pictures.

Mickey: I'll look at your pictures, darling.

Jean: There's nobody, Mickey. Nobody but us.

The Last Days of Mickey and Jean continues performances (Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday and Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 2 pm) through October 9, 2011 at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, New Jersey 07960: Box Office: 973-971-3706; online: www.bickfordtheatre.org.

The Last Days of Mickey and Jean by Richard Dresser; directed by John Pietrowski

Cast
Mickey.......................................Duncan Rogers
Jean..............................................Bev Sheehan
Bobby/Dr. Shockley/Tinsel.....Oliver Wadsworth


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- Bob Rendell



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