Sunday, November 16, 2008

Review - Moonlight & Love Songs (WorkShop Theater Company)

Review by Byrne Harrison
Photo by Gerry Goodstein

Love is a hard thing, even at the best of times. But when Harry (Jeff Woodman), an architect with a history of bad relationships, meets Jim (Ryan Tresser), a much younger man with a shared love of classic movies, it seems that his luck could be changing. But a fairy tale ending is not to be in Scott C. Sickles's latest play, Moonlight & Love Songs, being presented by the WorkShop Theater Company.

Jim, who claims to be a college student at a local university, is actually much younger than he appears. Harry, driven perhaps by his own innocence or merely not wanting to see the truth, ignores the clues about Jim's age. When Jim's father, The Reverend Bennett (David M. Mead), figures out what his son has been doing, he contacts the police, sending Harry's life into a spiral. He is arrested and loses both his job and the respect of his family.

Jim, forced by his sick mother not only to examine his relationship with Harry, but his own father's infidelities, must figure out if he is willing to sacrifice everything to help Harry.

Sickles's play is well-written, and because of his main characters' shared love of movies, references several classic Hollywood love stories in charming and inventive ways. Framing it in classic movie references, and by telling the main story as an extended flashback, he is able to show that no matter how terrible things get after the revelations about Jim's age, everyone makes it out more or less okay. Director David Gautschy allows the characters to set the pace of the play; Harry's scenes moving with a sort of fussy deliberateness that seems to suit his character, and Jim's with a sense of reckless energy. In addition, he makes good use of the entire Main Stage Theater space and Duane Pagano's versatile set and lighting.

While the cast is particularly good, Woodman does an exceptional job as Harry, especially in his scenes of wide-eyed yet dubious wonder when a beautiful younger man expresses interest in him, and his later scenes of stoic resignation with a healthy dose of gallows humor. Tresser as Jim effortlessly plays the mercurial tendencies of teenagers - impulsive, confused, and living each emotion with a terrifying intensity, as though it were the first time any human had ever felt it. Tresser, however, looks even older than the 20 year old college student that Jim pretends to be, but it's a minor inconsistency that is quickly overlooked.

Also outstanding are Jeff Paul, as Ben Stafford, Harry's best friend, boss and brother-in-law, and Nicole Taylor as Harry's sister Diane. As the one person who stands by Harry throughout the scandal, Paul plays Ben as a truly stand up guy, with a touch of frat boy humor, but an unflagging loyalty, and Taylor's take on Diane shows a great deal of range and mines all the humor in the role.

Sickles takes a potentially controversial topic and crafts a beautiful story of a doomed romance. Like the old movies it references, Casablanca chief among them, Moonlight & Love Songs shows that love often demands sacrifice to become transcendent.

Written by Scott C. Sickles
Directed by David Gautschy
Lighting and Scenic Design - Duane Pagano
Sound Design - David Schulder
Assistant Director - Chaya Muldavin
Production Stage Manager - Michael Palmer
Assistant Stage Manager - Samantha Mercado
Coordinating Producer - Mitchell Sawyer
Press Representative - Scotti Rhodes Publicity
Promotional Art/Logo - Todd Alan Johnson

Featuring: Ryan Tresser (Jim Bennett), Jeff Woodman (Harry Wallace), Jeff Paul (Ben Stafford), David Palmer Brown (Box Office People, et al), Nicole Taylor (Diane Wallace-Stafford), David M. Mead (The Reverend), Anne Fizzard (Eileen Bennett)

Main Stage Theater
312 W. 36th St.
4th Floor East

For reservations call 212-695-4173 x5#

Wed.-Sat. 8PM
Matinees on Sat. at 3 PM

Through November 22