Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Room Service
Westport Country Playhouse

Also see Zander's review of Debbie Gravitte with the New Haven Orchestra

Jim Bracchitta and Ben Steinfeld
Room Service, as a play, made its debut in 1937. Now, Westport Country Playhouse, brings the comedy back to life for theatergoers through October 27th. Thought of as an out-and-out farce and famous, perhaps, through the Marx Brothers movie, the current production strikes me as more thoughtful than outrageously funny.

John Murray and Allen Boretz provide the script, Mark Lamos directs, and designer John Arnone furnishes a place in the White Way Hotel in Manhattan; it is 1937. There are beds, a couch, desk, chairs—wallpaper—and so forth. Looks very much time appropriate. Gordon Miller (Ben Steinfeld), who has borrowed heavily to finance a new production called Godspeed, has taken a room provided by manager Joseph Gribble (David Beach). Miller thinks the resulting show will become a roaring success and he will be able to pay his debts. Much of the time, he seeks to avoid creditors. Leo Davis (Eric Bryant), playwright, shows up having come to the big town from Oswego. Davis gets manipulated by Miller, his assistant named Faker Englund (Richard Ruiz) and various others. Gribble is hands-on with the hotel but is terrified of his boss, gruff Gregory Wagner (Michael McCormick). Wagner keeps trying to toss Miller and the performing cast of Godspeed out of the hotel.

Lamos highlights the proceedings as characters appear in various garb of the period, thanks to costumer Wade Laboissonniere. That much is clearly and successfully farcical: men wearing underwear on the outside and so forth. A couple of women are on hand, too. Christine Marlowe (Zoe Winters) plays the leading actress in the play and she happens to be romantically involved with Gordon Miller. Hilda Manney (Hayley Treider) falls for naïve author Davis. Actor Peter Von Berg is terrific as waiter Sasha Smirnoff. At the conclusion, Von Berg is not quite so convincing as Senator Blake. Harry Binion (Jim Bracchitta) is always around since he is directing the new play. All the while, requisite doors slam. The timing is precise, yes. This feels mostly like part of the fabric of this genre.

While this is largely an ensemble piece, the central character is probably producer Miller. Steinfeld is actually quite credible but not wildly amusing in the role. It would be revealing to learn whether that is so via director's intent or actor's choice. Miller believes in live theater but has created such a fiscal hole that he is absolutely frantic in a quest to remedy the situation. Sounds real and this is relevant not only to the 1930s. Manager Gribble, too, is panic-stricken. The cast (unseen) for the show is downstairs and/or on stage. Actors' lives, huh?

Room Service is divided into three thirty-plus minute acts and that works very well. A few of the slapstick devices are real laughers and much of the action and plot development is amusing to various degrees. Thematically, however, this revival gets one thinking: about the whys and wherefores of decades of theater since 1937 through the current day. Where are those of us who believe in performing headed and how do we proceed to sustain? The over-arching questions are most cogent and Room Service brings them to mind. Casting is excellent and this is a smart selection for Westport Country Playhouse which concludes its current season with the show.

Room Service continues at Westport Country Playhouse through October 27th. For tickets, call the box office at (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol

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