Thursday, September 18, 2014

Evening Star Productions: The Subject Was Roses (2 reviews)

SubjectWasRosesEvening Star Productions opened its production of The Subject Was Roses at the Sol Children’s Theatre on September 12, 2014,
A mother and father struggle for the love of their son, who has recently returned home after serving overseas, in Frank D. Gilroy's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning drama
Jeffrey Bruce directed a cast that included Alan Gerstel, Elli Murray, and Evan Gerstel.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
The production directed by Jeffrey Bruce, a frequent actor in local theaters, underscores the insightful, pungent and well-constructed script. But the valiant effort leaves far too much crucial passion AWOL – all that antagonism barely stifled at first and then unleashed, causing irrevocable damage. It’s a kitchen sink drama, so perhaps they all feared being too volcanic or falsely operatic, but more is called for.
It’s not a ham-handed or dull production by any means; but the shortfall between what we hear in the script’s potential and what we see on stage is frustrating. Throughout, the trio of actors seem to play only what’s happening at the moment without communicating that everything said and done results from two decades of uncivil civil war.
Murray gives the most believable performance of someone whose pearl-wearing place in a traditional household is always to keep things together by keeping emotions under control. Her Nettie is genuinely overjoyed to have a chance to smother her son once again, but simultaneously sees the opportunity to use him as a tool against John.
Alan Gerstel, known as a television anchor and reporter in Palm Beach, has been in three supporting roles in musicals at The Wick Theatre down the road this past season. Physically, he is a perfect choice for John… But Gerstel is always acting a part. We never quite forget that we’re watching a play. His John just seems grumpy rather than deeply troubled.
Evan Gerstel… does a passable job at communicating Timmy’s discomfort and anxiety at returning between the jaws of the vise. But there is a distinct lack of intensity and fire that the role requires… his Timmy is a fuzzy, round-edged, even doughy character.
What Bruce and company do achieve is deftly depicting the slow disintegration of the shaky détente that the three have built and devoutly hope to maintain. They also make credible that a shred of diluted affection survives among them.
Despite all the welcome focus on new works in South Florida, Roses is part of a recent run of “period pieces” that remind us or deliver to a new audience a glimpse of what theatergoing used to be back – dare I say it – a half-century or so ago.
Evening Star is a young company that just produced a rollicking A Comedy Of Errors in its small theater where Sol Children’s Theatre is based and it will mount The Gin Game in February with Jim Gibbons. It’s a fledgling company worth watching in the future.
Hap Erstein wrote the first theater review that the Palm Beach Post has published in ages:
To understand why (The Subject was Roses) continues to be a mainstay of regional and stock companies 50 years after it first met audiences, visit Boca Raton’s humble storefront Evening Star Productions this month. There on view is an unexceptional but effective rendering of Gilroy’s autobiographical kitchen-table drama of a young World War II veteran returning to his Bronx home and seeing with adult eyes his parents and their loveless marriage.
At Evening Star, the three-member cast assembled by director Jeffrey Bruce never quite mines the subterranean emotions in the triangular tug-of-war, yet the story’s powerful cumulative impact remains evident.

Gerstel, a former local news anchor, projects John Cleary’s jovial salesman nature and manages his quick gear shifts to peevishness. In an intriguing casting move, Gerstel’s real-life son, Evan, attempts the role of Timmy, but seems ill-at-ease onstage, focusing his eyes on the ground or around the stage, rarely making contact with the other cast members. That might be an acting choice, but it comes across as discomfort.
Murray fulfills her role most completely, capturing Nettie’s stern manner and drawing audience empathy in an early morning monologue in which she ponders how her life might be different had she made other decisions.
Evening Star Productions presents The Subject Was Roses at the Sol Children’s Theatre through September 28, 2014,

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