Playing Together

Part of it comes from Mark Lamos, whose beautifully sculpted production has an extra edge of involvement not always visible in his recent work. With particularly strong aid from Jess Goldstein's cunningly keyed costumes and lighting designer Pat Collins's lush range of sunshines and shadows, Lamos evokes the world around as well as inside the empty house. His six-member cast, all strong, is nearly always exactly on the mark; I particularly liked Gregg Edelman and Neil Maffin as the middle Ray and Gil, and Remak Ramsay as both the outrageous old Gil and Ray's crusty father-in-law. Whether I actually like Thief River I don't know, but a play that annoys me into giving it this much space must have something valuable in it.

** I really wish I could say the same for Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine, a bad play that seems to have been written just above the really interesting one to which Warren Leight couldn't quite find his way. Where Blessing loves the myth of the small town, Leight loves and unconsciously recycles urban media myths: old jokes, old tunes, old play and movie scenes. His wandering pen lapses into them all, after which he has to scramble to turn his recyclings to some original use. His worst slip here is to invent a youthful hero and heroine who fall in love, not realizing that they may be half-brother and -sister: The three title characters were jazz trumpeters in the 1950s; when one of the Glimmer brothers was away on a gig, his girlfriend took up with Shine, and soon found herself pregnant. This would leave Shine junior (a trombonist) and the well-brought-up Miss Glimmer in the same position as Frank and Vivie in the "sensation scene" of Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession; having stumbled into the situation, Leight has to waste much of his second act explaining his way out of it.

Not that there's much of interest either in the youthful Glimmer-Shine affair, since both characters are generic to the point of stereotype, or in the parental version, of which the one scene we get is almost a parody of its film-noir ancestors. The whole thing's only a carpentered excuse to explain the long estrangement and deathbed reunion of the now aged Glimmer brothers, one of whom has deserted jazz and junk to become a textile tycoon, firmly under the thumb of his scheming, ambitious wife. The other Glimmer, meanwhile, has stuck to jazz, devolving into an alcoholic, drug-sodden wreck with a bum ticker and a wisecracking tongue.

Frank Converse and Gregg Edelman in Thief River: northern exposure
photo: Susan Johann
Frank Converse and Gregg Edelman in Thief River: northern exposure


Thief River
By Lee Blessing
Signature Theatre
555 West 42nd Street 212-244-7592

Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine
By Warren Leight
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street 212-581-1212

How Glimmer 1 (Brian Kerwin) loosens up and gets back to his youthful dreams under the tutelage of Glimmer 2 (John Spencer) ought to be the play's substance, but Leight can't resist drawing on the heavy store of media anecdotage he carries, so that the script becomes a stage equivalent of "My Most Unforgettable Character," jazz edition. This gives Spencer the chance to have a high old time twinkling his eyes, cocking his sardonic grin, spitting out apothegms in his gravel voice, and strutting his bandy-legged strut, even when his character's under a respirator in an IC ward. He gives a glorious display, but it really would be more fun to see him play an actual dramatic role. Kerwin, meantime, hardly has anything to do except come on unpleasant and uptight, and then come on somewhat less unpleasant and uptight. Seana Kofoed and Scott Cohen fight their baseless roles gamely, but with diminishing results. More's the pity, since director Evan Yionoulis has put them all in a handsome environment: another of Neil Patel's subtle, elegantly understated sets; apt, puckish costumes by Candice Donnelly; evocative lighting by Donald Holder; and doubly evocative music, by Evan Lurie. Now if Leight could only see past the glitter of his own mythologizing.

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