Saturday, February 9, 2013

REVIEW: Love Street Theater "Sheps Naches" with Romantic Comedy "Crossing Delancy"*

Running now through February 24.
Love Street Playhouse presents "Crossing Delancy," a charming romantic-comedy set in 1980s New York City. The play explores the old age traditional roles of women as expressed by Bubbie, the lovable, feisty, sharp-witted Jewish grandma in her eighties (played by Love Street Playhouse owner and artistic director, Melinda Leuthold) contrasted by the liberated options of the "new woman" explored by her grand-
daughter, Isabelle "Izzy" Grossman (played by Jennifer Johnson, LSP's You're A Good Man Charlie Brown).

Susan Sandler's script is a gem. Funny, warm, thoughtful and surprising. This is some good and genuine writing. Can you say "love triangle?"

The Tale

When Bubbie and the matchmaker Hannah (played by Corrie Graham, LSP's Steel Magnolias) try to arrange a date for Izzy with Sam, the local pickle man (played by Christopher Cleveland, LSP's Seven Keys to Baldpate, No Op'rey... plus others) a generational and cultural clash erupts. Izzy has ideas of her own and is more interested in the famous author, Tyler (played by Paul Segren, LSP's Wait Until DarkAn Inspector Calls).

Christopher Cleveland, Jennifer Johnson and Paul Segren.
Isabel is a modern woman who lives alone and works in a book shop. When she is not pining after a handsome author, she is visiting her grandmother in Manhattan's Lower East Side. The conflict is resolved with a generous dose of humor, affection and wisdom.

The Talent

The play has been ably directed by the talented and popular theater personality Tony Bump (LSP's Steel Magnolias and You're A Good Man Charlie Brown). Bump has a keen eye for the interpersonal and brings warmth--in the eyes, in touch--to character interactions.

Jennifer Johnson plays Izzy with a gentle introspection. Her shining moments are when she breaks the fourth wall and shares her thoughts with the audience. Johnson plays emotion well on her face and in posture, which comes across well up close, but gets lost some behind the proscenium. Sometimes she is overshadowed by the more charismatic characters, but perhaps the role calls for a bit of "wallflower."

Christopher Cleveland brings a warm and genuine feel to the role of Sam. You can't help but fall in love with the man--good looking, hard-working, gentle, persistent--both the actor and the character. Charming is the word. Oh, and subtle; there's an undercurrent which runs through the characterization that exposes the soul.

Melinda Leuthold is too much fun as Bubbie. Very convincing; who knows, maybe she's really Jewish? Producer/Director Melinda hasn't acted on stage in 26 years, but you wouldn't know it. We all knew she had it in her and all we can say is: "It's about time!" (and don't let it be so long before your next role). Watch her hands (which need aged, BTW); much of the character is played there.

Paul Segren, it seems, gets to play these multifaceted characters that seem one way on the surface while a shifting magma rumbles below, waiting to rise. Segren is well suited for the role of the egotistical author Tyler. (I am NOT saying Paul has an ego or anything.) And isn't he dashing in that beard?

Corrie Graham tends to play some broad and comic characters and she's funny. Her role as Hannah was played in much the same manner--perhaps a bit over-the-top for this production. That is not to say I did not enjoy the characterization, but simply that it didn't match the "feel" the other actors brought to their roles. This is a "romantic-comedy," warm and introspective--meant, I think, to be more romantic than funny.

The Tech

Photo by Gregory E. Zschomler

Set Designer/Builder Jeff Leuthold is certainly challenging the amazing work of Clark College's Mark Owsley for "most authentic set realized in  the smallest space" (there ought to be an award). A truly remarkable set, depicting four locations. No other theater company comes close to the beauty and authenticity of Love Street Playhouse. I felt like I was looking into a real, lived in apartment, etc.

The illusion of four locations is aided by an exceptional lighting design by Kelly Ragsdale (TD at Columbia Theater) that uses only small PARs, a blue flood and whatever little strip of lighting thingies LSP has behind the proscenium. It was effective and controlled (with a lot of blackwrap)--pools come into place and fade out as if dissolving from scene to scene.

And the detailed period dressing of the set, by Melinda Leuthold, is the final selling point. There were a few faux pas, like the Michael Jackson "Moonwalk" book cover from 2009, but overall the application is rich and meticulous.

The show's only major downfall was its costuming (usually an LSP highlight). I didn't feel the outfits reflected the play's period (1980s) well and the first act, representing the passage of several weeks, didn't have a single costume change. It really needed costume changes to show that.

The production is suitable for all ages. The show runs now through February 24; 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12 general seating, $15 gold seating. For more information please contact the Love Street Playhouse ticket coordinator:


The Special Thursday, February 14, Buffet Dinner Performance, prepared by Chef Manny Gutierrez, is $50 per plate. Menu Advance online reservations required. Wine, sold separately: $15/bottle. Proceeds benefit Woodland Rotary. SOLD OUT!

* Sheps Naches is Yiddish for "Brings pride and joy."

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler 
Photo, by Darcie Elliott, provided, except as noted.

The Following REVIEW by Dennis Sparks:

A Valentine Wish

Love and romance permeate this gentle comedy. Sometimes it is loud and fairly leaps off the stage; sometimes it is a whispered, longing for the ideal mate; and, sometimes, it is just a fervent desire from a mother to dance at her daughter’s wedding. All in all, it is the rumblings and stumblings toward Happiness.

The story is of a Jewish mother, Bubbie (Melinda Leuthold, the theatre’s Founder and Producer), trying to secure a solid future for her daughter, Izzy (Jennifer Johnson). So she does what many Jewish mothers do to ensure this outcome, she hires a Matchmaker, Hannah (Corrie Graham), who is as bold as she is gluttonous.

Her offering to the party is Sam (Christopher Cleveland), a pickle maker. But Izzy has her own designs on a writer, Tyler (Paul Segren), who frequents her bookstore but doesn’t seem to know she’s alive. “And, therein, lies a tale.” A universal story of Love with its many faces. Familiar, yes, but rarely done with as much charm as exuded in this production.

Tony Bump, a veteran theatre director/actor/singer/writer, leads his cast with care down the winding road of human emotions. He deliberately picks the moments to be brassy with his creation and then to have his audience sigh with recognition. It seems to be a wonderful collaboration between he, the cast and the audience.

Leuthold truly shines as the aged mother. You would never know that she is truly an attractive young lady. Her make-up and dowdy dress give her the outer semblance of an elderly lady. But it is not just good make-up that sells us on the character, it [darn]-good acting. Her looks, the gestures, the amazing accent, all compliment her insightful abilities as an actress. Hopefully this will not be the last we see of her gracing the boards.

Johnson, as the focus character, is absolutely charming and your sentiments are with her the whole way. It is a tribute to her talent that she is able to mesmerize the audience into wrapping its arms around her and giving a loving hug.

Graham, as the Matchmaker, is bombastic, bold, brassy and instantly believable. Although pushy, one can’t help but know that her heart is in the right place.

Segren, as the writer, seems on unfamiliar ground, for audiences that have experienced his nastier sides, convincingly portraying the villains in Wait Until Dark and An Inspector Calls. But he seems comfortable playing the aloof Tyler with just the right amount charisma that might attract the Izzy’s of the world. One hopes to see all his faces in futures productions.

Cleveland is fine as the man-in-the-middle. At first your sympathies are not with him, but as the story grows, you see he is a sincere man that is simply as awkward as Izzy in exposing his feelings. A tender performance.

And the set, by Jeff Leuthold, should be applauded. It is so well done and convincing that one feels they could simply walk into it and be transported to an earlier time and place. This can also be said of the costumes by Mr. Bump. They range from the outlandish to the sublime with equal effectiveness.

The title, "Crossing Delancey," can be seen as a metaphor, for crossing from one neighborhood into another of a higher or lower class. Or, as Sam explains, "sometimes you have to put on a different hat, to see a larger world, or have it see you."  As Izzy proclaims, “The hat for the girl who sings to me in all my working dreams.” May we all be brave enough to “change our hats” when the need arises.

I recommend this show. If you choose to see it, tell them that Dennis sent you.

Review by Dennis Sparks, Guest Reviewer 

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