Alive and Well
Also see Bill's review of Sweeney Todd
Mr. Finkle's two-character play, at the Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre through April 25, pays loving tribute to romantic comedy conventions, perhaps too loving. In some ways it seems as though Alive and Well was designed to feature the quirky mismatch of types that Hollywood producers love to feature in films.
The play opens in Petersburg, Virginia, where journalist Carla Keenan is about to embark on a 100-mile westward journey across the central part of the state. The trip would replicate Robert E. Lee's retreat from the Union forces commanded by Ulysses S. Grant, a retreat that would end in surrender in the small town of Appomattox. Leading the trip is Zachariah Clemenson, a Civil War re-enactor and taxi driver who is not only familiar with the history of the surrender but who has claimed to have seen "the lonely soldier," a ghost who supposedly still patrols the route.
Our protagonists "meet ugly," do not travel well together, and then are thrown together by exigency (they become lost and a rainstorm suddenly flares up). They push apart but then, as romantic comedy conventions dictate, they reunite in time for a closing tableau.
If this plot summary implies to you that not much goes on, you'd be right. And, what does go on seems derivative: an entire half hour of act one is devoted to a plotline that is remarkably similar to one from the Frank Capra film "It Happened One Night," which starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Mr. Gable's famous line from Gone With the Wind, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," makes an appearance as well.
So, what is Mr. Finkle doing with his two hours of stage time? Cracking jokes. Some of them are actually pretty funny. Do the jokes make up for the plot? Yeah, sort of.
Performances by San Diego native Kelly McAndrew as Carla Keenan and James Knight as Zachariah Clemenson help a lot as well. Under Jeremy Dobrish's supple direction, Ms. McAndrew and Mr. Knight embody their characters, provide the requisite fireworks, and time their one-liners for maximum effect. I also admired the production (including Shelly Williams' Civil War-era uniforms that become the butt of some of the jokes, Michael Gottlieb's lighting design that creates small playing spaces within the not-so-large White Theatre stage, and Paul Peterson's subtle but effective sound design). I was struck by the creativity of Robin Sanford Roberts' scenic design (for example, a bed pulls out of a rocky area), but the overall effect reads as "Arizona," not "Virginia."
The Old Globe is giving Alive and Well a co-world premiere production (along with the Virginia Stage Company). I won't go so far as to call it dead-on-arrival as a play, but it might work better in the film medium it so clearly venerates.
The Old Globe presents Alive and Well by Kenny Finkle. Performances March 20 - April 25, 2010, at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on the Old Globe campus. Tickets ($29 - $62) available from the box office at (619) 23-GLOBE, or online at The Old Globe's website.
Directed by Jeremy Dobrish with Robin Sanford Roberts (scenic design), Shelly Williams (costume design), Michael Gottlieb (lighting design), Paul Peterson (sound design), and Moira Gleason (stage manager). With Kelly McAndrew (Carla Keenan) and James Knight (Zachariah Clemenson).
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