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Tuesday
May172011

A VIEW FROM THE LIVING ROOM // A review of the play Dear Ruth

BY MATEO MORENO

A great comedy can, and will, stand the test of time.  Shakespearian audiences still roar with laughter just as much as they did when the Bard premiered his classics long ago.  I Love Lucy still brings genuine, heartfelt laughs to its proceedings.  And it’s a pleasure to say that Norman Krasna’s 1944 play, Dear Ruth, still rings true in its clever and funny dialogue.  It’s an old fashioned comedy, but the humor still stands.  It’s like looking into a time capsule of a very funny moment of our parent’s lives.

The entire piece takes place in the living room of the Wilkins home and begins with the families maid, Dora (Shay Gines), cleaning up the house.  One by one we’re introduced to the family: There’s the classic sitcom era father Harry (David Sedgwick), the housewife mother (Heather E Cunningham), the Patriotic “older than her years” younger sister Miriam (Becky Byers), and finally the oldest sister Ruth (Alisha Spielmann).  All seems like a normal day until a Soldier by the name of Lt. William Seawright (Douglas B. Giorgis) appears at the Wilkins door looking for Ruth.  He’s been corresponding with her through the mail, and he’s head over heels for her and here as a surprise.  Trouble is Ruth has no idea who this Soldier is, because Miriam is the one who’s been sending the letters, signing them as Ruth.  Things complicate even further when Ruth announces that she’s getting married to her longtime square boyfriend, Albert (Matthew Trumbull).  And…cue the insanity.

Dear Ruth has a mixture of that classic comedy and zaniness that is often left out of modern day comedy so it both feels refreshing and new to experience the screwball pace of this classic.  Almost all of the performers on stage embody their characters fully, and the play soars as they do.  Heather E. Cunningham and David Sedgwick make an absolutely charming parental unit; one that loves its family but isn’t above some light sarcasm here and there.  And refreshingly they’re both still sexually attracted to each other, and show that their love is still very much alive in a long and fruitful marriage.  Alisha Spielmann gives Ruth a voice straight out of a Cary Grant or Spencer Tracey film, stylized and sharp.  Her Ruth is a snapshot of a young woman growing up in a time gone by, and her wit and tenderness elevates each scene.  

Stealing nearly every scene he’s in (which is a hard feet considering the strength of this cast) is Matthew Trumbull’s Albert, who on paper is meant to be made fun of and loathed, but Trumbull gives him quite a soul.  Yes, he’s a bit of a twat, but he’s also a man of incredible patience and understanding.  It’s clear that he and Ruth aren’t meant for each other, but that doesn’t stop you from understanding his “side.”  Becky Byers gives the youngest sister zest and spunk, and where she could be simply a side note, Byers fully embraces the opportunity to give her new meaning.  Though the playwright may have intended for Miriam’s letters to Lt. Seawright to be strictly platonic, Byers performance hints at a secret crush for the solider as soon as he appears, and it elevates the story to a greater height.  Her longing is fully relatable to anyone who’s yearned for someone they couldn’t have, and in several quiet moments, the expression on Byers face says it all; she’s a little girl who tried to grow up too fast, and found very grown up sadness in her intended good deed.

Only one actor is definitely a weak link in the cast, but it still dampens the proceedings a bit.  Director Richard Roland moves the action with a very swift hand indeed.  It mostly works but a few times I did wish he would slow down the proceedings a bit.  The locomotive speed of the mostly compliments, but there were a few times it hindered it slightly.  Lastly, Jeffrey Stander’s set design is great, completely transporting you to a home in 1944.  Throughout the entire show, even the unneeded button on the end, the cast zips and zings exactly how you’d expect a classic comedy should.  And Dear Ruth does not disappoint.  Even after all these years.

 

Written by Norman Krasna  Directed by Richard Roland  Starring Alisha Spielmann, Heather E. Cunningham, David Sedgwick, Douglas B. Giorgis, Becky Byers, Matthew Trumbull, Joe Mathers, Matilda Szydagis, Shay Gines. Content Disclaimer (Adult Language) Closes on May 21st, 2011 at The Spoon Theatre (38 W 38th Street, NYC) 

For tickets: https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/1011

Mateo’s Grade: B+

What BVEW Members Might Like: Strong acting, fast-paced funny dialogue, and an old fashioned humor rarely employed today.

 Bottom Line: It’s a really strong revival from “Retro Productions” and they fully commit to the era.

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