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A CurtainUp Review

Handy Dandy
By Macey Levin

Do you think all men are brothers and the bomb is a digression? --- Henry
The Colleagues Theatre Company, based at The Neighborhood Playhouse, was founded to offer performance opportunities for mature and seasoned actors. Their latest presentation is William Gibson's two-hander Handy Dandy. Though various elements within the work are drama-worthy, it may have been best to let the play rest or to give it some major re-writes.

Written several decades ago, one of Handy Dandy's thematic threads centers on peace and anti-nuclear protests. In fact, the play was developed as a fund-raiser for the 1960's national peace movement and was originally performed through the country by James Whitmore and Audra Lindley. Not to minimize the seriousness of the issue, there are other contemporary problems that could serve as the core of the work and be more theatrically effective. AIDS, terrorism, abortion rights are of more immediate relevancy. The company has done some minor updating of the script by utilizing cell-phones, so the playwright's original work has already undergone changes.

Gibson, author of The Miracle Worker, Two for the Seesaw and the current Golda's Balcony, has written bright and incisive dialogue for two interesting characters. Henry Pulaski presides over Sister Molly Egan's trial for trespassing at a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility while leading a group of protestors. Meeting as legal and philosophical antagonists, their respect and affinity for each other slowly evolve. They aid one another in confronting and accepting their past lives and sins. The relationship between the 70-year-old nun and the cantankerous, melancholic judge is replete with dramatic and comic possibilities while the bonding of these diverse personalities carries the promise of affecting drama. This potential is not realized.

Two highly respected veteran performers, Helen Gallagher and Nicholas Surovy, are woefully unprepared. Their line problems prevent the work from following its arc and fulfilling the drama of the confrontations. Rather than being involved with the characters we have our fingers crossed hoping the actors can find their place in the script. The foundation for well-rounded characterizations is present, but it and the drama cannot realize fruition in the production's current state.

The responsibility for this lies with director Don Amendolia as well as the performers. In addition to the line problems of his actors, Amendolia's staging is pedestrian and awkward. Though Andrew Donovan has created a set of platforms and steps, most of the action is confined to the apron area, ignoring the possibility for vivid stage pictures. An upstage setup for projections is utilized but once and Marcia Madeira's lighting, which could serve the production effectively, is also minimally used. The weaknesses of the production may abate as it continues its run, but the company should concern itself with a more careful selection of material.
Written by William Gibson
Directed by Don Amendolia
Cast: Helen Gallagher, Nicholas Surovy
Scenic Design: Andrew Donovan
Costume Design: Karin Beatty
Lighting Design: Marcia Madeira
Sound Design: Kristyn R. Smith
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes (one intermission)
The Neighborhood Playhouse, 340 E. 54th St. 212-239-2996
12/9/03-1/4/04; Tue-Sat at 8pm; Sat & Sun at 3pm (No perfs. 12/16, 24, 25, 31)--$19 or TDF voucher
Reviewed by Macey Levin based on December 9th opening performance

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