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Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Closet
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of The Sound Inside and The Cake and Zander's review of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Brooks Ashmanskas and Matthew Broderick
Photo by Carolyn Brown
The Closet, written by Douglas Carter Beane and inspired by Francis Veber's play Le Placard, is having its world premiere production on Williamstown Theatre Festival's main stage through July 14th. Laugh-inducing, it is also clever. Should you be concerned with political correctness and adhere to a literal interpretation of this comedy, viewing it might be unsettling. Those who perceive the work as a sharp satire will be pleased. In any case, Matthew Broderick makes his Williamstown debut while co-stars Jessica Hecht and Brooks Ashmanskas have appeared on these stages many times.

Welcome to Good Shepherd Catholic Supply Warehouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Scenic designer Allen Moyer furnishes a large, ramshackle space filled with religious statuettes, articles, crosses and so forth. Martin O'Reilly (Broderick), mild and meek, sits at his office manager's desk and realizes, with competition encroaching, that business is failing. He has lost his marriage, and his son is furious with him. Hecht plays Patricia Pennebarry, who enjoys baking and bringing cookies to work. She also harbors a fairly obvious crush on her supervisor, Martin. Actress Brenda Mishima (Ann Harada) is also on hand and she, loudly singing lyrics from show tunes every so often, would rather be on a community theater stage than stuck sampling Pat's muffins, which are not to Brenda's liking. Top man at the place is Roland Baldwin (Will Cobbs) who becomes more and more perplexed as the story unfolds.

Director Mark Brokaw pushes pace but allows for diverting, amusing segments to carry on and on. This is wise. New to this festival but with credits on Broadway and elsewhere, Brokaw both pulls out stops and pulls together this show.

Martin, worried about his personal finances, will rent a portion of his own house to board Ronnie Wilde (Ashmanskas), a gay man who is flamboyant in his every step and gesture. Stereotypical to be certain, he tutors Martin, who will emulate Wilde's walk and more. Actor Ben Ahlers is cast as Jack O'Reilly, Martin's son. At first he displays nothing but hostility toward his father. That changes when Martin appears to have taken on a very different persona. Rounding out the cast is Raymond Bokhour as Bishop Abadelli. The clergyman has come to assess and bless the business. He is large and he is fun.

Beane's concluding explanatory scripting indicates that much of what has gone on is, to a great degree, tongue-in-cheek. The message is that the closet, figuratively, is something from which many people emerge. Homophobia and coming out, through some hilarious sequences, have been earlier experienced and/or addressed. Now for a few minutes of serious commentary.

Broderick does not have a whole lot to do during the early going. He is straighter than straight in every regard. That changes and the actor enjoys some delightful moments. Hecht is, by turns, hyper-smart or ditzy. As her role opens up, the gifted actress demonstrates flair, physicality, and warmth. Ashmanskas, as Wilde, is pretty far out there but not randomly. The actor has total control of the character. Brenda (Harada) is a hoot and one anticipates her center stage opportunities.

The Closet is a relief in that its humor is broad and the play invites anyone watching to partake. Yes, given the times in which we live, it might be construed to discriminate against certain individuals. The production encourages cathartic laughter, enabling theatergoers to temporarily set aside (until the final portion) meaning of life. No one is victimized. Broderick mimics Ashmanskas. This is simultaneously exaggerated and cheerful. If a laugh meter were measuring, its indicator would be zooming upward here and elsewhere during the show.

The Closet, through July 14, 2018, on the main stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown MA. For tickets, call 4130458-3253 or visit wtfestival.org


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