San Francisco

A Lovely Production of David West Read's
The Great Pretender

TheatreWorks

Also see Patrick's review of Old Money and Richard's reviews of As You Like It and Pearls Over Shanghai


Steve Brady and Sarah Moser
TheatreWorks, starting its 45th season, is presenting the world premiere of David West Read's The Great Pretender. This is an ironic, complex and moving 95-minute production about Mr. Roy Felt (Steve Brady), a placid host of an iconic children's TV program who is semi-retired and struggling with the loss of his wife and longtime puppeteer partner.

The show's longtime director Tom (Michael Storm) wants Roy to return to the airwaves by introducing a young actress named Jodi (Sarah Moser) who has grown up watching the program and is uncannily able to reawaken the puppet sidekick once played by his cherished wife. This beautiful production pays tribute to the golden age of children's programing and television shows like "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and "The Friendly Giant" which help shaped young boys and girls growing up.

The Great Pretender is a "show within the show" at the beginning, and plays like a "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" episode, showing Dave Valentine's huggable, articulated puppets and a charming humor. The audience then learns that Roy's wife has died and, since she controlled the puppet Francis, it affects the show as well. We learn how Roy, the director Tom and remaining puppeteer Carol (Suzanne Grodner) handle the death.

Steve Brady is excellent and plays the role just like Mister Rogers, even when he is not in front of the television camera. He is honestly poignant in many of his scenes as he attempts to deal with a painful loss. Michael Storm as the sensitive director Tom gives a good performance; however, his character is never fleshed out by the director. It's more like a showbiz assistant typecast.

Suzanne Grodner gives an enthusiastic performance as the bombastic Carol. She is the most expressive of the four and there is a little of Kathleen Turner in her performance. She gives a hilarious soliloquy pitching a wonderfully random screenplay about a baseball playing cat with a foul mouth that is so absurd it's irresistible. Rounding out the four member cast is Sarah Moser who is charismatic as Jodi. She is perfectly cast as the star stuck, appealingly awkward wannabe puppeteer.

Director Stephen Brackett perfectly blends harmonizing strains of wit and sadness in his staging. It's fast paced and with little or no dull spots. David Zimmerman's set design brings the TV show and studio to life.

The Great Pretender plays at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto through August 3rd, 2014. To order tickets visit theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960. Coming up next is Quiara Alegria Hudes' 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning Water by the Spoonful opening on August 20 and running through September 14th.


Photo: Kevin Berne


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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