Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Director Bill Whitaker does a nice job with a very good cast, and Nicole Angeli as Lynn Hallaby seems to be occupying a very different plane from the rest of her family, who wants her to stay. Peggy Billo, as her mother, may have everything in their world staked-out too well, in the interest of family and Catholic order, and everyone else may be too entrenched in their own understanding of Lynn for her own good. But the playwright, herself, must have had a bus to catch, and couldn't hang around to explore these questions any further. It's really too bad, because when that's the whole evening, in an hour, you kind of feel cheated.
I sometimes boast that I try to meet each show on its own terms (all critics secretly think they're very charitable, in one way or another), and yet I can't help thinking that something more is needed, if not an entire second show, of a totally different nature, on a double-bill. Maybe it's not poetry that's lacking, as Goodbye Ruby Tuesday already has some: the poetry of classical physics; the poetry of childhood memories; and the poetry of various bits of romance. I suppose what it could stand to gain, still, is an understanding of the "trappings" of Lynn's life, and how she's hemmed-in, how her family limits her in ways she cannot articulate, and maybe even some diverting facts about Alaska, too, and why she bought that bus ticket to there, of all places. Because there are probably dozens of things currently in her life that she wants to escape from, without going all the way up to the far left-hand corner of the map. I understand if it's supposed to be mysterious, but it deserves to be explored.
I also have the strangest little note in my writing pad: "too many white objects on stage." This is not a plea for multiculturalism, but it is all a bit too arctic in this kitchen and bath setting, even as scenic commentary. If it's arctic surroundings you're after, you're already there. This set's good for bright "comedy lighting," but it's not really a comedy, in spite of some nice laughs here and there. Maybe Ms. Angeli's character needs some equally bright speech referencing great white dinosaur bones, or great white teeth chewing her up, slowly, threatening to digest her into a "type," to justify all that visual glare. Or, switch to almond in the quaint old kitchen.
There is a very good plot twist delivered by Lynn's younger brother Kelly (Charlie Barron), whose efforts to delay her escape get more and more desperate. Barron and Rusty Gunther, as Kelly's boyfriend, are both terrifically likable. Mr. Gunther, and charming Joe Hanrahan as the tinkering dad, might have some good potential for physical comedy in an existing fly-fishing episode. Lynn could even cast her fishing line out the kitchen window, to enhance the theme of escape. But, getting back to show-casting overall, Eric White as her husband seems cheated out of an entire life by the scripteven if that life only turns out to be that of a bad husband.
But maybe Lynn, herself, is the bad spouse, and it's just too politically incorrect for anyone to say soor, maybe it's her good-natured but controlling mother. It's just very interesting to me that both women in the cast, Ms. Angeli and Ms. Billo, as actresses, seem to have such strong, unstated, competing visions of what Lynn's life is supposed to be, though it's barely enunciated by the playwright herself. Playwright Lewis might sit down and watch them a time or two, to get some inspiration for the subterranean turf war developed by director Whitaker in rehearsal.
Tennessee Williams knew that competing fear and desire could hold a family together, at least for a couple of hours, as shown in The Glass Menagerie. Like Ruby Tuesday, it's also a memory play, but this newer one seems strangled into the smallest of speeches and impulses. It also reminds me of A Thousand Clowns, which can be even harder to play, and also involves a threatened family structure. Why is The Glass Menagerie such a sure-fire hit by comparison? For one thing, we really explore, through the incidental appearance of "the gentleman caller," the role of all the missing men in their lives.
Maybe this Ruby Tuesday needs to become the "missing woman," before we can truly understand what her presence means to all of them, and why she's feeling so strangled herself. And maybe we could arrive at a better definition of modern young women along the way.
Through September 22, 2012, at the Kranzberg Center for the Arts, a block south of the Fox Theater on Grand Blvd., almost a mile north of I-64. For more information visit www.hotcitytheatre.org or call (314) 289-4063.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers