Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Light Lemonade at NJ Rep

Ben Masur, Stephanie Dorian,
Dana Benningfield, Bruce Faulk

Back in the era when Otto Preminger's movie version of F. Hugh Herbert's piffling "sex comedy" The Moon is Blue was condemned by the Legion of Decency, Lemonade, the new comedy by Mike Folie at New Jersey Repertory, would have been a sensation (if anyone would have had the nerve to produce it).

However, a half century and sexual revolution later, this not unpleasant comedy's mechanistic plot will likely confine its appeal to community theaters and summer stock. It may even provide titillation to the more sheltered audience members of such venues.

While not long on originality, the setup is interesting and workable, and there is a good deal of snappy repartee throughout.

Carl and Jim, who were friends in college, meet in a bar ten years later. The philandering and boastful Carl is married with baby. The single Jim is monomaniacally married to his successful business. Carl convinces Jim to come to his home for dinner and an introduction to a suitable woman.

Unaware that her longtime best friend, the high powered Betsy, is in the midst of a protracted affair with Carl, his wife Jane invites Betsy to meet Jim. However, Jim falls in love at first sight with Jane. Jim and Betsy feign interest in each other in order to facilitate their respective designs of winning Jane and Carl.

As soon as Jim and Betsy embark on their plan, they begin to sleep together. All this occurs early on in the first of two acts.

Improbabilities already abound. Would Carl and Jane not have discussed whom Jane would arrange for Jim to meet? Would Betsy not have told Carl of the invitation, and refused it? Would the shy Jim, who is so smitten with Jane, climb right into bed with Betsy? Would Betsy ....?

Any number of ever more improbable twists and turns, several of which require members of the foursome to act totally contrary to character, remain to be played out before the final curtain.

Although the ending is essentially the one which you would expect from the early exposition, Carl is so obnoxiously full of himself that it is hard to understand what either Jane or Betsy can see in him. The expected, conventional ending is doubling unsatisfying because of the nature of the characters and their relationships.

The young cast projects a breezy likeability despite a tendency to come on too strong. This is especially true in the case of Bruce Faulk as Carl. His breezy aggressiveness makes Faulk likeable while rendering his Carl overly obnoxious. Quite a dichotomy here.

Ben Masur as Jim and Dana Benningfield as Jane are especially appealing and generate a surprising amount of chemistry. Benningfield is an ideal Jane. However, there is an unprincipled side to Jim which Masur's performance fails to explore.

Stephanie Dorian captures the confidence, toughness, aggressive sexuality and neediness of Betsy. It is an especially well nuanced performance.

Director Evan Bergman keeps everything moving along brightly and breezily. Jo Winiarski's handsome all-purpose set provides several comfortable playing areas on two levels. Patricia E. Doherty provides attractive costumes. Jeff Greenberg's lighting is appropriately bright and crisp.

New Jersey Rep's next two productions are quite ambitious and weighty - Old Clown Wanted, the U.S. premiere of a play by Romanian playwright Matei Visniec, and Whores, a politically charged play by Lee Blessing. For now, with its current production of the light Lemonade, weighty matters will just have to wait.

Lemonade continues performances through June 6, 2004 at the New Jersey Repertory's Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740, box office:732-229-3166; online

Lemonade by Mike Folie, directed by Evan Bergman. Cast (in alphabetical order): Dana Benningfield (Jane); Stephanie Dorian (Betsy); Bruce Faulk (Carl); Ben Masur (Ben)

Be sure to Check the current schedule for theatre in New Jersey

Bob Rendell

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