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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Catskill Sonata
If the remark above sounds cynical, writers like Dave Vaughn (Kip Gilman) had plenty to be rueful about in the late 1950s. Writing jokes for Arthur Godfrey and being fired for his estranged wife's donations to a suspected Communist organization may be Dave's pillars of bitterness in Michael Elias's play about a writer's odyssey, now at the Hayworth, but there's a sorrowful bass note echoing the recent tragedy in Dave's life that permeates everything he does.
He's currently trying to promote a freebie summer at Rosen's Mountainview Hotel, whose owner Anne Rosen (Lisa Robins) tries to fulfill her dream of an artistic Bohemian community by inviting guest artists. Among them is beautiful pianist Rae Isaacs (Lisa Chess). She has trouble getting work after being praised by Stalin on her tour of Russia, and just as much trouble turning down Dave's irresistible and well-remembered advances. Dave is tailed by a young waiter, Irwin Shukovsky (Daryl Sabara), who has writerly ambitions and a short story in hand for Dave to review.
Director Paul Mazursky colors this sardonic comedy with the wry touches and helplessly outraged humanity made famous in his films (Bob, Carol, Ted & Alice; Harry and Tonto/ Enemies, A Love Story). Elias (The Jerk, All in the Family) writes characters wonderfully and Mazursky knows just what to do with them, The director takes full advantage of the music of the period which, as the audience comes in, plays Harry Belafonte and the kind of jazz that makes you want to get up and dance. There are, in fact, several dance numbers— one between Dave and Joseph Stalin (Elya Baskin) who makes a fantasy appearance and one fabulous swing number between Dave and Anne.
The horrors of the McCarthy trials before the House Un-American Activities Committee hang over this idyllic setting with its bright gentle swing music and its invitations to romance. The play has bite and charm, like all the best romances, even though it's not about romance. A final monologue by Dave, driven by joblessness and eviction from the joys of Mountainview to write that play, implies the whole play may be a fantasy, particularly the character of Irwin. It seems an unnecessary coda with no connection to the play's other themes until you realize that this really is the dominant motif of Dave's life, an example of the material that drives all writers.
A few corrections: The excellent cast is anchored by Kip Gilman who plays Dave with boozy charm laced with a disillusion that is irresistbly drawn to transform itself into a writer's illusions. Sabara's Irwin is very much of the period, not this period, and his righteous anger gives the play and Dave what it needs. Robins' Anne Rosen is a charmer. Zack Norman does preening and sleazy to a turn as her aspiring suitor Leo, Jeff Corbett makes a pungent moment in his cameo role of Butch, as does Elya Baskin as Joseph Stalin. Desma Murphy's set of the hotel patio, as interpreted by J. Kent Inasy's mellow lighting, makes you want to go there.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater