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A CurtainUp Review
. . .the best things are the things nobody notices. The sky. The clouds. The door you can walk out any time you please
---Brenda, the Native American hooker explaining to her friend Cathy, why she went "independent" -- her dreams echoing the yearning for independence of Mickey Hollister, the drifter with whom she will become romantically entangled
Shaula Chambliss & John Riggins
(Photo:) Charles Cameron
We've grown accustomed to film and television stars on stage. Now, adding to the celebrity-on-stage mix we have two ex-football players both opening within a few weeks of each other in Off-Broadway plays. Bob Eason, who played in the National Football League for four years, scripted his own stage debut, a semi-autobiographical peek into an athlete's life called Runt of the Litter (Our Review). Now NFL Hall of Fame legend John Riggins has taken on the lead role in William Hauptman's play about a Wyoming boom town. Riggins is a relaxed performer who emanates some charm. Unlike Eason, he doesn't have to carry the ball alone, though the mostly non-Equity cast doesn't make for a particularly strong team.

Gillette, besides providing a New York stage debut for Riggins, marks a departure of sorts for the four-year old Storm Theatre Company. Most of their previous productions focused on the works of dead authors -- John Synge (Playboy of the Western World), Dion Bouccicaault (The Shaughraun and Arragh-ne-Pogue), Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Money -- reviewed at CurtainUp). William Hauptman is not only alive but, like Riggins, has a good deal of name recognition by virtue of his Tony Award winning musical Big River. Since Gillette is seventeen years old and has only had one brief run in California, however, it fits the company's mission of giving New York audiences a chance to see plays they would not otherwise have an opportunity to see.

According to a quick internet search, Wyoming does actually have a town named Gillette though the town's website gives no history of it being a boomtown for oil drilling in 1981. To my knowledge that kind of boom town situation ended many years earlier than the play's time frame, but I'm willing to take Mr. Hauptman's history at face value -- especially since watching his play leaves me with plenty of other quibbles.

Hauptman's aim of depicting the pull towards realization on one hand, and financial success on the other hand through a group of colorful characters that includes drifters and prostitutes is valid enough. The once sleepy little town that now has "Cinema One, Two and Trhee" is an apt background for the story of forty-year-old Mickey Hollister (Riggins-- who, while good looking enough, looks closer to his real age of fifty-two, than forty). Mickey has come to Gillette by way of Texas in order to earn enough money to buy his dream fishing boat in Alaska.

The trouble with all this is that the Silver Dollar Lounge where we first meet Mickey and his innocent-abroad sidekick Bobby Nobis (Eric Alperin) seems straight out of a dozen grade B movies. The same is true of Mickey and Bobby and the whole quirky equally quaintly named cast of characters: the tough-as-nail waitreess-bartender Doreen (Kristin Mauritz); the former athlete turned oil rig boss Bouger McCoy (Kevin Villers) and his aide-de-camp Poot (Derek T. Bell); two entrepreneurial hookers Cathy (Colleen Crawford) and Brenda (Shaula Chamblss) who turns out to be the love of Mickey's life. There's also a hapless dumbbell (Genia Michaels) for Bobby, who must break free of her nasty biker boyfriend (Eric Thorne) and, of course, a sheriffr (Paul A. Burns II).

As all these characters play out their all too predictable roles, I began to have a sneaking suspicion that this play's limited has life is less a case of neglect than its being as dated as the movies it echoes. The script does have some sharp dialogue, especially from Doreen (her rejection of Bobby will stand for all: " I hate tell you Romeo, but there's something like fourteen thousand other guys who got here first . . .Know how they say Bo Derek's supposed to be the only perfect ten? Well every girl in Gillette's a five just by being here -- even if she's on Medicare."). Ms. Moritz's Doreen and Colleen Crawford's Cathy, the hooker, are among the better performances. On the whole, however, director Peter Dobbins must make do with an underwhelming cast. His efforts to break the fourth wall tend to be more busy than effective -- for example, having the actors at the bar as the audience is seated, having Mickey and Bobby move a couch on stage for their post intermission prairie scene and then lounge around and pretend to have a conversation.

The twangy country music in between scenes covers the noisy bustle of moving props for shifts to various locations. But don't expect another Big River. Jeremiah Lockwood's original music is more noisy than memorable.

Like all small companies the Storm Theatre is to be commended for putting on large cast productions with a small budget -- and for daring to act on the challenge of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus: "Now is the time to storm; why art thou still?"

GILLETTE Written by William Hauptman
Directed by Peter Dobbins
Starring John Riggins; with Eric Alperin, Derek T. Bell, Paul A. Burns II, Shaula Chambliss, Colleen Crawford, Kristin Mauritz, Genia Michaela, Eric Thorne, Ken Trammell, Kevin Villers.
Set Design: Michelle Malavet
Graphic art/set paintings: Pamela Noftsinger
Costume Design: Elizabeth Bourgeois
Lighting Design: Charles Cameron
Composer/Musician: Jeremiah Lockwood
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, plus one 15-minute intermission
Storm Theatre, 145 W. 46th St. 212/5959-1512
Wed & Thu at 7:30pm; Fri & Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm - $19
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on Febuary 9th performance.
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