“It looks different when you're sober. I thought I had twice as much furniture.”
This was one of the many great lines delivered by Jenifer Thomas playing Evy Meara in The Gingerbread Lady.
The Hartland Players took on the risks of alcoholism, sex, parenting, and domestic violence in an in-depth comedic script on opening night last week. The play runs 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Hartland Music Hall.
With Bob Hachlinski at the helm as director, the cast interpreted one of Neil Simon’s lesser-known plays surprisingly well.
It’s not an easy script even though it may seem pretty straight forward. Written in 1970 to mixed reviews, Simon wrote about issues that were still not openly talked about, let alone laughed at. Better known for plays like The Odd Couple, Biloxi Blues and Barefoot in the Park. I remembering reading he said writing this play made him a better playwright and when I spoke with Bob he mentioned this as well. With 27 awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, that’s a pretty big compliment for not such a popular play.
The play centers on the character Evy Meara, an ex-cabaret singer who is also an alcoholic mother. She leaves for a stint to go into a rehab hospital and returns to an eventful homecoming that includes the only family she knows: a struggling gay actor, a frustrated vain wife, a daughter yearning for a relationship, and an alcoholic musician ex-boyfriend. The party and difficulties start there for these characters and the plot includes twists that can be uncomfortable.
“It’s a challenging show because you don‘t know how the audience is going to react,” says Hachlinski, in his fourth play directing with the Hartland Players. “This show has really expanded (the cast's) capabilities. The characters are complex and it really pushes them emotionally.”
With a simple, yet effective set, and blocking that made sense, the small cast worked well together playing the humor true to life instead of farce-like. In the opening night performance, the cast members play their roles with a lot of heart and reality and you can’t help but feel for these characters. I wasn’t the only one who appreciated it. Everyone who attended seemed to respond to the bittersweet humor with several laughs but also soaked up the serious issues at the same time. There is a little something that everyone can relate to in this play.
While Hachlinski also updates the script to today's society by changing cities, colleges, and date references but the overall script stays intact and it works fine because these are subjects that we are still dealing with in society today.
Simon was a bit before his time in writing about these subjects so openly and perhaps the audience of 1970 wasn’t as prepared for it.
This is a brave funny play, and Hachlinski mentions in his directors notes that even though a “faulty” Simon play is probably funnier that 95 percent of all the plays you will see this year.
Hope you can catch it.