‘45 Seconds from Broadway’ at Dayton Theatre Guild
By Jacqui Theobald
Photo: [l to r] Debra A. Kent, Marcus Simmons II and Debra Strauss; photo: MediaMoments.com
August and September are known for fine harvests of corn, and you can find a bumper crop at the Dayton Theatre Guild this weekend. Growing in a metropolitan field located in the Broadway Theatre District where corny one-liners of a blustery stand-up theater comic feed other New York City characters, the comedy is a nostalgia piece from 2001. It seems older.
While the plot is mostly thin or missing, the characterizations and the performances are rich and full. Director Fred Blumenthal must have had way too much fun encouraging this cast. He actually first became involved with the show as set designer/dresser. He’s celebrating his 60th year with the Dayton Theatre Guild, and has been involved in more than 100 productions.
Playwright Neil Simon covers a year – four seasons – in a coffee shop said to be quite like the actual one in the Edison Hotel on W. 47th St. The very creative Theatre Guilders have made a star of the set. From a slightly worn, not-quite-leather booth to menu covers that appear to have been well handled, no detail has been forgotten and each one is exactly right.
Blumenthal is almost as proud of that set as he is of the show. His diligence in research paid off with finding restaurant-style swinging kitchen doors at a demolition site, and many of the other behind-the-counter pieces in used furniture stores.
As the “owners” of the little restaurant The Polish Tea Room, Bernie and Zelda are played by Dave Nickel and Terry Lawson and so well cast, so comfortable dispensing kindness and understanding along with the coffee, that you may want to signal for a little service. Lawson has a wonderful moment of anger and indignation in the second act when her whole body quivers with emotion.
A pair of Broadway patron matrons, Arleen and Cindy (Debra Kent and Debra Strauss) make the most of their every moment on stage. Short on intellect and long on enthusiasm, they always need to stop by for refreshments, phone calls and misplaced convictions. A new comedy team is born.
The featured comedian, of course, is Mickey Fox, played by the multi-talented Saul Caplan. The character is said to be modeled on Jackie Mason. If you liked his style, you’ll love this performance – brisk, snappy and ego laden.
“This is Neil Simon,” Blumenthal said of the play. “Nobody writes comedy better, even in his lesser works.” “45 Seconds” had just over 100 performances on Broadway, including 31 previews.
“There’s only one star,” Blumenthal noted. But Simon has written some other delicious opportunities for fun and the 12-person cast uses them well. Patty Bell as Rayleen and John Spitler as Charles are a priceless comedic couple; she’s tall and elegant, just a little odd and addled with demands for a white table cloth and exotic tea. He is totally silent. Silent until, well, there is that very last scene.
Gail Andrews Turner as actress Bessie dispenses wisdom and a bit of humor to her scenes, especially with ingénue Mary Mykytka as Megan Wood, a wide-eyed and naïve freshly-arrived would-be-actress from Ohio. Megan later works as a waitress at the Polish Tea Room, and so reappears and grows a bit more knowing.
As Solomon Mantutu, Marcus L. Simmons II, Midwest-born in real life, is convincing as a South African playwright, puzzled and penniless. “I never had time to develop a sense of humor,” his character says. It is a welcome omission. He returns in the final scene, a more self-assured character.
“You always wish for a new face, dripping in talent to turn up at auditions,” Blumenthal said, “That’s the story of Steve Kantor. He walked in at the last minute after reading in early evening the Dayton City Paper’s ‘On Stage’ column about Theatre Guild auditions, at 7. He was perfect for the role of Harry Fox, Mickey’s brother, experienced and right in every way.” His is the only earnest, serious, poignant role – the exact opposite of Mickey, whose defended heart of gold is finally touched.
K. L. Storer wears at least three hats: producer, sound designer and actor – as Andrew Duncan, a British producer. He brings the proper demeanor as a foil for rat-ta-tat-tat Mickey.
That set is the result of combined efforts, certainly a lot of real work. In the program, credit (set realization) is given to Blake Senseman (chief) Jeff Sams, John Spitler, Carl Buergler, Blumenthal and Kelly Engle (also stage manager). The counter stools were made by volunteer Don Bigler, the range hood crafted from scratch by Jerry Anderson. Costumes for this large cast, most appearing in all four seasons are by Carol Finley, with input from cast members. Lighting Designer is Nick Vanderpool; technician is Scott Wright. Rachel Pope is sound tech. Backstage crew Jessica Opper and Angela Riley move fast to create the seamless appearance.
It may not have taken quite a village, but it certainly takes a backstage crew willing to go more than a few extra miles, as well as an on-stage ensemble working fluidly and intelligently as one.
“45 Seconds from Broadway” runs Sept. 6-8 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave. Performance times: Friday, Sept. 6 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 7 at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. For more information please call 937.278.5993 or visit daytontheatreguild.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.