Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Golden Leaf Ragtime Blues
Also see Zander's review of Sunset Boulevard
Pompey (Glenn Barrett) is an 80-something year old extrovert who spent much of his life performing vaudeville in combination with ragtime and comedy. Now, his apartment on Chicago's North Side is filled with junk, including emptied food cans, various pieces of clothing tossed every which way, stacks of newspapers, and so forth. The play opens in 1993, as he and longtime partner Ollie (Kevin G. Coleman) revisit the type of entertainment they'd enjoyed presenting for decades. It's not working and Ollie walks away.
Marsha (Kristen Moriarty) arrives, finds her father's place a disastrous mess, and intends to have him placed elsewhere. It so happens that Pompey still runs a weekly workshop for the elderly. He hasn't any interest in relocating to any sort of retirement or old age facility such as "Eternal Springs." Marsha brings with her a teenage African-American boy she hopes to adopt. Jet (Logan Slater) has had too many negative experiences at group homes and he's both sardonic and cynical. Marsha goes on her way and leaves Jet to help clean up Pompey's room.
The pair of almost comically mismatched souls find a common ground through music. Their contentious exchanges are intrinsically authentic. Each sees that a combination of Pompey and Jet, in performance, might work.
Ollie has passed on yet, even from another realm, comes on stage to chat with his dear, treasured friend. The play gently closes and leaves an observer to contemplate old age, multi-generational and multi-racial relationships, the very act of survival, and more. Its impactful messaging sneaks up on the observer. The production builds incrementally and ultimately could not be more precious.
Smith catches the viewer early on with his scripting, which is complemented by Theron Wineinger's staging. Pompey's small living area is first obscured by a reddish, transparent curtain within which the two aging performers "practice." Thereafter, the playwright layers the work with varying themes while mixing melancholic drama with wry, sometimes bittersweet humor. Director Golden helps actors shift in several configurations.
Glenn Barrett's Pompey is the focal character and that actor, who has performed often in southern New England and also in New York City, blossoms as he evolves during the show. Barrett is physical, emotional, whimsical, and also wistful. Pompey is likable even as he's contemptuous at times. Coleman and Moriarty are excellent in supporting roles. Youthful Logan Slater first embodies Jet as a combative, disrespectful teenager who thoroughly disdains Pompey. The actor shows flexibility as he personifies a Jet who shifts gears according to Smith's storyline.
The author needed to reimagine his initial work and his effort yields a piece which is complex when it comes to emotions and implications. Each of Golden's cast of actors seems to have an intuitive feel for his/her character.
This is a shining jewel of a presentation, one which demonstrates that theater is an encompassing art. The splendid text requires acute, evocative interpretation, and this ensemble group is more than up to that task. There's just enough tension to balance the charm that smoothly transports theatergoers to another place.
Golden Leaf Ragtime Blues runs through October 30, 2022, at Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox MA. For tickets and information, please call 413-637-3353 or visit shakespeare.org.