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August 31, 1999

"Wanted: Alert, Sympathetic Readers to Review This 'Personals' Revue"

by Ernie and Pat Pinson

The Joe Jefferson Players presented for its season ending performance on August 20-21 a relatively mediocre, unchallenging musical comedy called "Personals." Composed of 16 songs, the music was not memorable and the multitude of one-liner newspaper ads issued in rapid fire (say 2 per minute on average) had little to offer the audience beyond a pleasant evening of entertainment, although that's a huge plus to some people. The play is concerned with those who advertise in inexpensive want ad sections looking for jobs, mates, travel companions, sex companions, or just anyone who will absorb loneliness (One ad reads like this: "Sensitive poet millionaire with body like statue of David seeks woman to share his Greek island- -box 6A".)

As usual of most "musical revues," there is little cohesion among the 6 characters (neatly divided into 3 males and 3 females) aside from the fact that they pair off in the end. When a single play has a total of 9 writers (6 in music, 3 for lyrics) unity is likely to be problematic. The set was composed of 5 staging areas--two on the wings, two on the upstairs of what apparently is an apartment, and one in the center of a huge round table/bench/platform device, plus a door that lead to a hall way. Four of the staging areas were communication sets (telephone, typewriter, videotape, audio cassette), and the central platform scene allowed space for movable sets to be brought in.

As written, the play offers little in character development, little in plot development, and no redeeming theme, unless finding love through want ads qualifies as a theme. Why--the question persists--are 6 characters placed on stage in a single set and yet have no past relationships with each other? We ask this question in order to emphasize what director/stage designer Tom Grey has done to enhance the production. Evidently the script (we have no copy before us) in typical revue fashion calls for scores of different scenes to come on and off stage in quick time frames. Tom Gray found a way to avoid this fragmentation. Here his "Director" notes are worth repeating: "To help facilitate continuity and avoid the interruption of the required set changes, we decided to employ a unified setting with multiple spaces. Thus ...we present a microcosm of the varied New York locales." What a very clever idea--a satiric microcosm of New York locales all wrapped into one. But that's not all. Windows hanging from the ceiling, a hodgepodge of mixed furniture, the illusion of realism with (in Grey's words) "the cartoon-like atmosphere" all gave a kind of unity to the stage. Additional cohesion was achieved by assigning a single color scheme for each character--Angelique in reds, Paul in greens, Meganin yellows, etc. Add to that the black and white motif in the set (although a bit too subdued for easy recognition) to suggest printed newspaper ads, and we think you can see why we have great respect for the talents of this director/designer of the Joe Jefferson Players.

The selection of performers is, however, another matter. A musical by its very nature is at least as dependent, if not more so, on musicality for its success than on acting. One is, of course, limited by the pool of actors who audition, but as a whole the 6 cast members were better actors than singers. While only 2, Angelique Turk and Sue Reinhardt, had obvious vocal training, all 6 seemed to be seasoned performers fairly even in acting abilities. This is not to argue a shabby performance. Indeed, the energy output of the entire cast and their desire to achieve made a far better play than the script promised on its own. For example, Sue and Paul's rendition of "I Think You Should Know" was especially noteworthy, and the finale' "I Think This Time We Got It Right" made up for the terrible "Don't Tell" song that preceded it.

Speaking of music talents, you should have heard Paulette Clark on the keyboard and Chris Kern on percussion. Not only were they just super in quality, they were super in variety of sounds. In fact, we thought more than 2 were making those sounds.

As for the audience, their enjoyment belied this review. Although a tad restless when the show opened 10 minuets late, it was obviously a small price to pay for a satiric, musical comedy. They enjoyed the crowd-involved dance at the end of Act I, the numerous jokes and counter jokes, the quick pace, they seemed unabashed with the fragmented set, and when Paul and Christopher entered as two convincing dowdy mothers, it brought the house down. Good show, Joe Jeff Players, despite the sitcom triteness of the script!

The Harbinger