Sunday, February 14, 2016


Director Ian Wolfgang Hinz’s program notes state, “GOLDEN LEAF RAG TIME BLUES is an exploration of prejudice and humanism.”  He continues, “Their prejudice blinds them to the humanity in each other and the potential shared love of music, comedy and the need to have someone listen.”  He further states, “GLTRF asks us to confront our human capacity for seeing the ‘content of character’ present in all of us.”

Oh, if only playwright Charles Smith had, indeed, written the play that Hinz’s creative writing expresses. 

As is, GOLDEN LEAF RAG TIME BLUES, which is getting its world premiere at Ensemble Theatre, is the kind of play you see and quickly forget.  During the entire production I kept asking, “What does the author want me to understand, do, believe, from this theatrical experience.

I am still asking the same question. 

Yes, there is racism, ageism, prejudice, loneliness, and desperation exposed.  But the dialogue simply exposes us to those topics.  There is little real conflict or depth of character development to engender any high level emotional involvement or reaction.  There is little to like, dislike, or feel any depth of empathy for any of the characters or the situation in which they find themselves.

This is not the fault of the director or the actors.  They put out effort, but there is not much meat on the bones of the play to gnaw upon.

Pompey is an old man, living in a filthy apartment, who is depressed.  He has recently lost his best friend, Ollie, his comedy routine partner for many years.  He has recurring delusions, reenacting his Borscht Belt comedy routine with Ollie.

Marsha, his daughter, finds him sitting in his underwear, hungry, and without much will to live.  She is accompanied by Jet, a black teenager who she has befriended as part of a support program for teens who are living in a youth home.  She leaves Jet and her father together while she goes to the store to buy some food. 

The unmatched set are suspicious of each other, spar a bit, and eventually lightly bond.  When Jet is caught attempting to steal some silverware, Pompey feigns calling the police.  When Jet assumes that the police are about to enter the apartment, he jumps from the window and flees. 

The play comes to an end with no real resolution.  Lonely Marsha, who has had little luck in her attempts to befriend her charges, is crestfallen by another failed effort.  Pompey seems to realize his role in the quick exit by Jet.  But, what has either really learned? What should we, the audience, take away for our hour experience?

The cast (Paul Slimak--Pompey, Allen Branstein--Ollie, Brycen Hunt--Jet and Mary Alice Beck--Marsha) is generally competent and the staging as interesting as possible due to the script’s limitations regarding humor and emotional content.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  GOLDEN LEAF RAG TIME BLUES is, at best, a work in progress.  The writing fails to grab and hold attention, leaving the cast with little opportunity to develop much in the way of depth of character.  The production team and cast give all they can in staging, but are left with little reward.  Ensemble should be praised for attempting to give life to a new play.

GOLDEN LEAF RAG TIME BLUES runs Thursdays through Sundays through February 28, 2016 at the Playground performing space in Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Ensemble’s next full staged production is Jez Butterworth’s JERUSALEM in its Main Stage Theatre from April 29-May 11th.

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