Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Review - Claymont (Emerging Artists Theatre)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

The year is 1969. Vietnam is getting ugly. Students are rioting. Even in Claymont, a small town outside of Wilmington, change is in the air. For Dallas Hitchens, change means being kicked out of college, kicked out of his house, and moving in with his neighbors, the Greenglasses. For Neil Greenglass, it’s art, the possibility of attending Berkeley on a scholarship, and experiencing his first real crush . . . on the older, rebellious Dallas. Dallas encourages Neil’s artistic ability, he plays the big brother to him, and when his draft notice arrives, forces Neil to devise a drastic plan to keep Dallas close.

Written by Kevin Brofsky, Claymont could easily be dismissed as just another gay coming-of-age play. That would be a mistake, not only because it sells the play short, but also because Neil’s budding homosexuality is not the main point of the play. For Neil, that’s just one of many complications in his life – he’s unpopular, his father is an invalid, his family is poor, he’s artistic and misunderstood. His lesson is that life can be crushingly painful and unfair, but there is beauty, love and sacrifice – which might not sound like a good thing, but has rewards of its own.

The acting is generally good, though Wynne Anders as Dolores Hitchens, Dallas’ mom, and Rebecca Hoodwin as Neil’s Grandma, come dangerously close to caricature. Luckily, Hitchens and Hoodwin both know where to draw the line, and their characters- a Robert Harling-esque Southern chatterbox and an Old World bubbie, respectively- never quite go over-the-top. Jason Hare proves once again that he has a particular talent for playing teenagers. His Neil is almost so many things - gay, an artist, in love, free from high school – and Hare plays that sense of possibility so well. Stephen Sherman’s Dallas is an enigma. A young man who doesn’t want to go to war, he nonetheless sabotages every chance he has of staying out of it. Sherman does a fine job playing Dallas’ confusion at this self-destructive impulse and in keeping him from becoming just a charismatic rebel. Glory Gallo brings so much to the table as Shayna, Neil’s long-suffering mom. Her wonderfully nuanced performance is excellent and her scenes with Neil at the end of the play are at turns heartbreaking and amusing.

It is worth noting that this is Emerging Artists’ first production in Baruch Performing Arts Center. Now that the designers have a large, some might say cavernous, space in which to work, they are really getting an opportunity to show what they can do. Tim McMath’s set for Claymont doesn’t disappoint. It makes full use of the large space and captures the aesthetic of the late ‘60s suburbia without going overboard. It’s also a clever bit of staging having Dallas’ basement bedroom higher than the rest of the set. The actors make it work nicely by “descending” a flight of stairs then stepping up into the room. All in all, a nice effect.

While this production of Claymont seems to drag at times and generally feels overly long, it features good acting and a couple of really nice, touching moments.

Directed by Derek Jamison
Stage Manager: Jennifer Granrud
Set Designer: Tim McMath
Property Master: Stephanie Wiesner
Lighting Designer: Joyce Liao
Sound Designer: Ned Thorne
Costume Designer: Meredith Neal
Technical Director: Patrick T. Cecala II
Press Agent/Marketing Director: Katie Rosin
Properties Intern: Ellys R. Abrams
Stage Crew: Tera Vetter, Alison Carroll
Sound Board Operator: Jin Hamano

Featuring Aimee Howard (Sharon Letts), Glory Gallo (Shayna), Jason Hare (Neil), Rebecca Hoodwin (Grandma), Ron Bopst (Mr. Ramsey), Stephen Sherman (Dallas Hitchens), Wynne Anders (Dolores).

Baruch Performing Arts Center
55 Lexington Avenue

February 9 – March 2Tues. and Fri. 7 PM; Sat. 2 PM; Sun. 8 PM

Visit http://www.theatermania.com/ for tickets.