Stuff is based on the true story of brothers Homer and Langley Collyer who became famous for their snobbish eccentricity and compulsive hoarding. Homer and Langley were the sons of affluent Manhattan gynecologist Herman Livingston Collyer (1857-1923), and former opera singer Susie Gage Frost (1856-1929). After the death of their parents (who were also first cousins), the brothers lived as hermits for decades in their home at 2078 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. There they obsessively collected newspapers, books, furniture, musical instruments, and other assorted items, setting up booby traps in corridors and doorways to guard against intruders. Following reports of a suspicious odor, police entered the home to find the body of the late Homer Collyer, and later the body of his brother Langley, who lay crushed to death by one of his own booby-traps while bringing food to the now paralyzed and blind Homer. More than 130 tons of waste was removed from the Collyer home. Today "Collyer's Mansion" is a modern firefighting term for a dwelling of hoarders that is so filled with trash and debris it becomes a serious danger to the occupants and emergency responders.
The first act is set in an elegant sitting room of the palatial Collyer brownstone. The year is 1929 and, though her husband has passed away, Susie Collyer (Angie Radosh) still rules her home and her two sons with an iron fist clad in a fine velvet glove. Angie Radosh is the quintessential woman of privilege dancing with lucidity in her declining years. Her performance is polished to perfection. It is regrettable that her character is not present in the second act.
Michael McKeever as Homer and Nicholas Richberg as Langley bicker competitively in the first act, pushing emotional buttons childishly as perhaps only brothers can. Richberg's first act monologue about a blue bottle is one of the best acting moments in the show. Slowly we begin to see that Stuff is about the entire storyreal and/or imaginedthat exists behind objects that makes them special.
The second act opens in the same sitting room in 1947, where decades of hoarding has resulted in floor to ceiling clutter surrounding a living space reduced to a few square feet. The years have filled the brothers' lives with "stuff" that now defines and controls their home. McKeever and Richberg capture the changed relationship that has happened over time, and certainly McKeever writes to find the humor in each scene. Though he is a good comic actor, McKeever's acting style is a bit off at times. His physical mannerisms and speech delivery feel too contemporary for a wealthy man of this time period with a law degree from Columbia.
While scenic design for the first act is certainly lovely, it is the second act transformation by designer Tim Bennett that is truly remarkable. The terrible truth of the real story behind Stuff makes this play a guilty pleasure enjoyable to watch.
Stuff through July 31st at the Caldwell Theatre. The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The Caldwell Theatre Company is designated by the State of Florida as a Cultural Institution and receives funding from the State of Florida through the Florida Department of State, the Florida Arts Council and the Division of Cultural Affairs. The Caldwell Theatre Company is located in the Count De Hoernle Theatre at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, Florida. For information you may contact them by phone at 561-241-7432 or online at www.caldwelltheatre.com.
*Indicates member of the Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.