Sunday, February 17, 2002

Proposals (Beck Center)

Beck's 'PROPOSALS' entertains

Some plays are perfect fodder for community theatres. Neil Simon’s 'PROPOSALS,' getting its Cleveland premiere at Beck Center for the Arts, is that kind of script. It has everything to delight audiences. There is a plausible story line, lots of funny one-liners, conflicted love, and a wonderful voice from the dead.

Neil Simon is the crown prince of American comic theatre. His 30 plays have almost all been hits...hits with the public if not always with the critics. 'PROPOSALS,' in the vein of 'BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS' and 'LOST IN YONKERS' is not only entertaining, but renders a message.

The story concerns the Hines family and their last summer together at their summer home in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania. We are carried back to the 1950’s by Clemma, the African American cook, housekeeper and nanny of the family. Acting much like the Greek chorus, she introduces us to the setting and the characters, and steps in and out of her role as tour guide and participant in the action. This format is unique for Simon as he expands beyond his usual pat writing format. He uses a narrator, an African American lead character, and the play takes place outside of New York City.

Beck’s production, under the guidance of director Sarah May, is a little slowly paced. In spite of that the actors sometimes stomp on laugh lines and/or don’t cue the lines to assure audience response.

The cast is uneven. Joyce M. Meadows is nothing short of outstanding as Clemma. It’s worth going just to see this woman dominate a stage.

Joe Bandille as Burt Hines, the father/husband, and Jennifer Clifford as his daughter Josie are also excellent. James Seward, as Clemma’s estranged husband, hits the right emotional notes. Joel Nunley as Vinnie, a Mafia-clone, just isn’t broad enough in his characterization. He loses many lines as his accent comes and goes. He is also not helped by wearing a costume totally “unMafiosso.” Kellie McIvor, as the airheaded model, again, was played much too seriously. The other cast members tend to act rather than react to the goings-on which leads to surface level performances.

Don McBride’s set is could smell the woods, feel the dampness coming off the lake. Casey Jones 1950’s musical selections had the audience singing along as Doris Day and friends filled the auditorium.

Capsule judgement: With a wonderful production 'PROPOSALS' could totally enrapture an audience. Though Beck’s production falls short of that, it is still very entertaining.