As last season drew to a close, Theatre in the Valley (TITV) was in dire financial straits, and there was talk that there may not be a 2016-17 season. Through the dedicated effort of some core volunteers, the company has managed to stay afloat. And that, my friends, should make everyone happy.
First impressions are important. There’s a whole new feel and look to the place. It’s as if they’ve upgraded everything from the greeting when you walk in the door of the lobby to the new professional-looking programs. They’ve even got a slick new website.
They’ve wisely launched the new season with a nice production of “Broadway Bound,” Neil Simon’s third entry of his memoir-ish trilogy. With a solid cast, and tightly directed by Jim Williams, the play fit nicely into the tiny venue; if you’ve ever been to TITV, that’s saying a lot.
The program doesn’t credit a set designer (nor other design aspects), but we got the needed two-story set, well dressed for the period. From antique-framed photos to posters of Betty Grable, beautiful touches of the era within the play graced every corner of the stage.
Chris Carapucci takes on the role of Eugene Jerome, the character who narrates the play by breaking the fourth wall to directly address the audience with asides. In these moments, the character is fully grown, successful, and confident as he fills in details of the family life of a young man on the verge of breaking out. But, this is when Carapucci faltered. Looking away, shifting weight, shuffling in place, all project inadequacy which better serve the young Eugene he’s describing. He also had moments when he moved around the set without motivation. Those faults aside, Carapucci brought a refreshing honesty to the role.
There’s a quality about Randy Hample that reminds of Jack Haley, Jr. Playing the older brother, Stanley, he’s full of energy, he’s expressive, and he’s always in the moment. Even when he’s holed-up alone in his bedroom, and the major focus is on center stage, Hample continued to play out the scene to bring continuity and paint a full picture. He’s got a flair about him; the enthusiasm and sense of determination he brought to Stanley were spot on.
There’s no denying that Helen Okonski is beyond the age of the role of Kate, Stanley and Eugene’s mother. But it doesn’t take long to forget that fact. Okonski is one of those consummate actresses within the community: much like actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, she manages to remain herself yet be completely believable in whatever role she takes on.
The same can be said for Peter Vitale in the role of the boy’s father, Jack. Though he stumbled on lines a couple of times, Vitale remained in character, recovered, and kept going.
John Wennstrom delivers the curmudgeonly Ben, Kate’s father, with absolute abandon. Using his entire instrument, turning phrases with vocal agility, his Ben is at once funny and sincere. He moves with appropriate slowness, his hands tremble when he’s excited or frustrated, and the voice quavers in the right tones with an immigrant dialect; it’s a fully realized, three-dimensional portrayal.
The cast is rounded out by Terri Gandy, who puts in a fine cameo turn as Blanche, Kate’s now well-to-do sister.
It would’ve been interesting to see these actors deliver the same roles in “Brighton Beach Memiors,” the play that kicks off the entire saga of the Jerome family prior this point in their journey.
I’ve been quite critical of this company’s past efforts, pointing out many times over the years that details matter. From character portrayal to the smallest of props, costumes, and set dressing, it all comes together to make what takes place in front of an audience believable. It makes us suspend our disbelief.
Jim Williams and the crew of this production, with a few minor stumbles, does just that and it’s great to see Theatre in the Valley take this leap forward.
What: Broadway Bound
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, through October 9
Where: Theatre in the Valley, 10 West Pacific St, Henderson
Tickets: $10 - $15 (www.theatreinthevalley.org, 702- 558-7275)
Grade: *** (Satisfying)
Producer: Theatre in the Valley; Director: Jim Williams; Lighting and Sound: Rick Bindhamer; Props: Joan Vogel, Clay Kuykendall; Stage Manager: Joan Vogel; Stage Crew: Jolynne Sanchez