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Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Pride's Crossing a Delightful Showcase for a Fine Company of Actors

Also see Bob's review of The Rat Pack - Live at the Sands

Harriett Trangucci and Clark Carmichael
The Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre is an actor's theatre which is dedicated to the artistic development of its excellent core of local actors. It has found a perfect match for itself in Tina Howe's bold feminist romp Pride's Crossing.

The play opens in the "present" (which would actually be 1997, the year that Pride's Crossing opened at Lincoln Center Theatre). Hobbled and cantankerous Mabel Tidings Bigelow, a high-born daughter of a socially prominent Boston family, has been reduced to living in the carriage house of her family summer estate. Mabel, who does much of her living in the past, is planning a Fourth of July croquet party in honor of the visit from Paris of her granddaughter Julia and precocious young great-granddaughter.

Over the course of twelve scenes, alternating between the "present" and the past, Howe takes us on a journey through Mabel's eventful life from 1917 through to the "present." Feisty 10--ear old Mabel had determined back in 1917 that she would swim the English Channel, and, despite her mother's determination that she be a proper cosseted young woman, Mabel accomplished her goal. Sadly, she was unable to overcome other strictures of her time and class when it came time for her to marry.

Filled with stage worthy characters and engrossing and amusing dialogue, Pride's Crossing is always lively and intelligent. It is also amazing clear as it daringly and dazzlingly juggles so many characters over many years. However, it is also more surface than substance. As it glides smoothly along, it is more an entertainment akin to a romantic novel for the women's market than it is an invigorating and insightful work of art. Most of the men (Brahmin or otherwise) are weak, and the lives of the women are blighted by their weaknesses. However, it is an exemplary example of its type, and provides marvelously theatrical opportunities for its cast.

Harriett Trangucci plays Mabel, and an additional seven actors divide 19 additional roles (Dreamcatcher employs one more actor than did Jack O'Brien in the Lincoln Center production). It is clear that her actors are having a good time, and in the process they turn Pride's Crossing into a delightful romp for Dreamcatcher audiences. While wigs, costumes, speech patterns and accents change, little or no make-up is employed, and it adds considerably to one's enjoyment to follow each actor as he/she rotates from role to role, age to age, and sex to sex.

Harry Patrick Christian is so good as the poet Chandler Coffin, a lifelong friend and soul mate of Mabel, that we want to know more about him. His Irish accented family cook Mary O'Neill is genuine and displays his female impressionistic best. Noreen Farley makes a strong impression, lending much color to old Mabel's caretaker Vita Bright; aloof smugness to Mabel's mother; and aged scatteredness to Kitty Lowell, an old friend invited to the croquet party. Clark Carmichael shines in his two major roles: Phineas, the favored and full of himself athletic brother of Mabel; and David Bloom, the English Jewish swimmer who is Mabel's true love. Janet Sales is a lovely, cool presence as Mabel's granddaughter Julia, who has made wiser and freer choices than her grandmother's with disappointing results, and a womanizing Austrian orchestra conductor. Nicole Callender shines as Pru O'Neill, the also Irish accented cook's emerging daughter, and does well moving further down in age to play Mabel's great-granddaughter. Dave Maulbeck is fine as two rebellious youths of different classes, but his elderly, silly female Fourth of July guest could use some work. Gary Glor is convincing as Mabel's domineering father and hysterical husband as well as a comedic elderly guest at the Fourth of July party.

I've saved the best for last. Harriett Trangucci's world class performance is breathtaking. She performs the elderly Mabel with a great deal of convincing detail. Her transformations are magical. They are as incredible as screen CGI, but better because they are the real thing. Old, cantankerous, ratty and no longer attractive, she transforms before our eyes into a fresh, vibrant and desirable young woman. Trangucci is fine looking, but her luminous performance demonstrates the old adage that true beauty comes from within. New York casting agents and producers are missing a bet if they fail to make the short trip to South Orange to see her.

Director Laura Ekstrand (company artistic director and actress) has done an excellent job all around, blocking well within a reconfigured Dreamcatcher space which places her audience close to the action on three sides of the stage. There is an adequate, budget-limited minimal setting with an abstract background (a series of curtains) and a few scenic props. Credit designer Jessica L. Kosky.

Good work all the way around, but it is the performance of Harriett Trangucci that Makes Dreamcatcher's Pride's Crossing something special.

Pride's Crossing continues performances (Fri., Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun.) through March 25,2007 at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre, (at the Baird Center), 5 Mead Street, South Orange, NJ 07079. Box Office:973-378-7754 ext.2228/ online:

Pride's Crossing by Tina Howe; directed by Laura Ekstrand

Mabel Tidings Bigelow…………………………………..Harriett Trangucci
Vita Bright, Maud Tidings, Kitty Lowell………………………..Noreen Farley
Chandler Coffin, Mary O'neill…………………...Harry Patrick Christian
West Bright, Frazier Tidings, Pinky Wheelock……………….David Maulbeck
Gus Tidings, Porter Bigelow, Wheels Wheelock……………………...Gary Glor
Phineas Tidings, Dr. Peabody, David Bloom……………...Clark Carmichael
Julia Renoir, Anton Gurevitch, Emma Bigelow……………………..Janet Sales
Minty Renoir, Pru O'Neill………………………………….Nicole Callender

Photo: Laura Ekstrand

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