By: David Sheward
Terrence McNally has written about his love of opera in such valentines to the genre as The Golden Age, Master Class, and The Lisbon Traviata. Now he waxes rhapsodic on his native form, the theater, in a pastiche history lesson called And Away We Go, written especially for the Pearl Theatre Company, one of the few Off-Broadway companies to employ a roster of resident actors.
The play opens with the six-member ensemble kissing the stage, revealing their favorite and least favorite roles and a cute anecdote about themselves. Then we launch into a zigzag History of Performance from ancient Greece to a modern financially strapped regional company with both groups staging the Oresteia. There are stops along the way in Elizabethan England, pre-Revolutionary France and Russia, and at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Coral Gables, Fla., for the pre-Broadway tryout of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
The set, by Sandra Goldmark, is a gigantic backstage workshop-rehearsal area-green room where the lives of the theater folk overlap and intersect. The concept is cute, sweet, and charming, but Away fails to convey the passion of the plays it references. McNally’s figures are pale shadows of the House of Atreus, King Lear, Treplev and Arkadina, and Estragon and Vladimir. Perhaps that was McNally’s intention: a light, loving tribute to the great theater practitioners without taxing the audience’s emotional muscles.
Despite the zippy direction of Jack Cummings III, even at an intermissionless hour and 45 minutes, the play feels stretched out with the sketchy vignettes of behind-the-scenes drama unable to bear the heavy weight McNally imposes on them. The cast, most of whom are members of the Pearl Resident Acting Company, have great fun playing multiple roles and occasionally achieve a tangible reality beyond the amusing accents. Carol Schultz imparts the devastation of dashed dreams as the head of the contemporary company facing bankruptcy. Rachel Botchan is fiery and fierce as a female enthusiast forbidden from participating onstage during the Greek drama festival. Donna Lynne Champlin is tough as nails as the protective wife of an offstage Bert Lahr, hiding in his dressing room after the disastrous Godot.
Sean McNall has a sleek elegance as a French actor as concerned with court and bedroom intrigue as his performance. Dominic Cuskern lends austere dignity to several roles, including an officious messenger of Louis XIV and the imposing patriarch of an Elizabethan acting clan. Micah Stock is a riot as a fussy playwright and a revolutionary delivery boy. They are clearly enamored of the theater, as is McNally, but the script is a paper-thin valentine rather than a searing love letter.
December 3, 2013
Nov. 25-Dec. 21. Pearl Theatre Company, 555 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. $35-60. (212) 563-9261. www.pearltheatre.org