Sunday, February 13, 2011

Theater roundup: A one-woman star turn and five guys with a small problem

Donna McKechnie.

By Hap Erstein

Some of us measure time by the careers of stage stars.‭ ‬It has been‭ ‬50‭ ‬years since Donna McKechnie’s Broadway debut,‭ ‬How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,‭ ‬where she appeared as an office worker dancing Bob Fosse’s quirky steps.‭

It has been‭ ‬35‭ ‬years since‭ ‬A Chorus Line opened on Broadway,‭ ‬winning her a Tony Award as the quintessential musical theater dancer.‭ ‬And‭ ‬10‭ ‬years since she appeared at Delray Beach’s Crest Theatre with her one-woman act of reminiscences,‭ ‬Inside the Music.

This weekend,‭ ‬McKechnie returned to South Florida with an in-development new act dubbed‭ ‬My Musical Comedy Life,‭ ‬for three performances at The PlayGround Theatre in Miami Shores.‭ ‬Like that earlier cabaret act,‭ ‬it is chiefly an anecdote-and-song stroll through her career which would appeal to anyone with the Broadway habit.

By my almanac,‭ ‬McKechnie is now‭ ‬68,‭ ‬but she looked smashing in a flowing,‭ ‬low-cut red gown.‭ ‬No,‭ ‬she does not dance much in the act,‭ ‬the singular talent which rocketed her to stardom,‭ ‬but she sings pleasantly enough,‭ ‬has some enjoyable stories to impart and wins over the audience on her personality and endearing charm.

After a shaky opening with faux-spontaneous patter that felt too written,‭ ‬McKechnie scored with a recreation of her first Broadway vocal audition‭ (‬A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’s‭ ‬I’m Lovely‭)‬,‭ ‬her three-part approximation of her showstopper from‭ ‬Company‭ (‬You Could Drive a Person Crazy‭) ‬and a couple of affecting numbers from‭ ‬Follies‭ (‬Don’t Look at Me,‭ ‬In Buddy’s Eyes‭)‬,‭ ‬which she performed in a Paper Mill Playhouse revival.

Of course,‭ ‬A Chorus Line was the show’s centerpiece,‭ ‬represented by a rendition of‭ ‬Inside the Music,‭ ‬the‭ “‬rangy‭” ‬first draft of what would become‭ ‬The Music and the Mirror.‭ ‬That number followed,‭ ‬but the dance at its core was reduced to a few spins and poses.

Also conspicuously absent from the evening was any mention of McKechnie’s marriage to her prime choreographer,‭ ‬the late Michael Bennett.‭ ‬She made a fleeting reference to the pains of‭ “‬arthritis and divorce,‭” ‬but had obviously made a decision to not go into her relationship with Bennett,‭ ‬as she had in her earlier act and her autobiography.‭

That’s too bad,‭ ‬because the omission was all too evident to those familiar with her life,‭ ‬who are surely the act’s target market.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬My Musical Comedy Life is sufficiently entertaining and deserves to hit the cabaret or performing arts center circuit,‭ ‬and to come back to the area for a longer engagement.

MY MUSICAL COMEDY LIFE,‭ ‬The PlayGround Theatre,‭ ‬9806‭ ‬N.E.‭ ‬2nd Ave.,‭ ‬Miami Shores.‭ ‬Closed Sunday.‭

‭ * * *

Todd Allen Durkin,‭ ‬Ken Clement,‭ ‬Barry Tarallo
‭ ‬Shane Tanner, and Ryan Didato in The Irish Curse.‭
(‬Photo by George Schiavone‭)

Too many plays are only about what they seem to be on the surface,‭ ‬while the better ones rise to the level of metaphor.‭ ‬Martin Casella’s support-group comic drama surely wants to be among the latter,‭ ‬but never persuades us it has more on its mind than the male member.‭

Yes,‭ ‬The Irish Curse has a penis fixation and,‭ ‬while that is an organ of considerable fascination,‭ ‬it turns out not to be interesting enough to fill a‭ ‬90-minute evening of theater.

According to Casella,‭ ‬the titular curse is a ethnic tendency of Irish men to have abnormally small sexual organs.‭ ‬From there,‭ ‬it is a quick leap to envisioning a support group where guys congregate to express their feelings of inadequacy over their,‭ ‬um,‭ ‬shortcomings.‭ ‬OK,‭ ‬even if the stereotype were true,‭ ‬it would still be a stretch to imagine a handful of dudes sharing their innermost thoughts on the subject.

Or maybe it could be a satisfying evening of theater‭ ‬--‭ ‬there were,‭ ‬after all,‭ ‬those‭ ‬Vagina Monologues,‭ ‬weren’t there‭? ‬--‭ ‬but Casella may not have been the right writer to manage it.‭ ‬Instead we get a lot of one-note jokes on the subject early on which segue into maudlin hand-wringing over how five characters with a teeny-weeny problem have let it damage their lives.

The site is a Brooklyn Catholic church community room,‭ ‬effectively designed by Douglas Grinn,‭ ‬where Father Kevin Shaunessy‭ (‬Barty Tarallo‭) ‬meets each week with‭ ‬a‭ ‬rotund lawyer separated from his wife‭ (‬Ken Clement‭)‬,‭ ‬a young sports doctor-in-training who fancies himself a ladies‭’ ‬man‭ (‬Ryan Didato‭) ‬and a gay undercover cop‭ (‬Shane R.‭ ‬Tanner‭)‬,‭ ‬united by the same malady.‭ ‬Naturally,‭ ‬as plays like this go,‭ ‬a new element is injected into their midst,‭ ‬a relatively recent immigrant from Ireland‭ (‬Todd Allen Durkin‭) ‬with his own tale of woe to spill.‭ ‬About to be wed,‭ ‬he is driven to harm himself to avoid matrimony because of his tiny johnson.‭

Squint and you can sort of see how the situation could stand for a more universal sense of inferiority or low self-esteem,‭ ‬but the writing remains so prosaic that the audience will have to do the work to get there.‭ ‬The cast,‭ ‬under the solid direction of Avi Hoffman,‭ ‬does what it can,‭ ‬but there is not enough here to hold interest for an hour-and-a-half.

THE IRISH CURSE,‭ ‬Mosaic Theatre,‭ ‬12200‭ ‬West Broward Blvd.,‭ ‬Plantation.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬March‭ ‬6.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$37.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬954‭) ‬577-8243.‭

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