Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic
howeird

There's Always Room For Cello

Last night I caught the final performance of Absence of a Cello by Ira Wallach, at Santa Clara Players. Two of the cast members I have known since 1984, when Kiki Arnaudo played my wife and Helena Clarkson played our daughter in TheatreWorks' production of Oliver!. Dean Burgi, who directed this gem, is also an old friend from Menlo Players Guild, where he was artistic director for a few years in the late 80's, and we worked on some shows together in the early 90's. His wife, Peggy, was in the show I directed at SCP a couple of years ago, and his assistant director for Cello was my director's assistant for that show.

I had never heard of this play before, and my usual source for rehearsal updates was busy visiting family, so I came at this with a very open mind. I was pleasantly surprised with the script, which created strong, consistent characters all around, and had some surprising bits of cleverness.

Here's my review - and no apologies for the spoilers, because this show has closed.

Andrew Pilgim (David Ammon) is an aging world-renowned physicist genius who is deep in debt, and as a last resort has applied for a management job with a huge corporation. The company is sending Otis Clifton (Paul Vezinaw) to interview the scientist at his home. Andrew isn't planning on doing anything special for the interview, but his daughter Joanna (Bic Vu) knows you have to dress up and try to fit a corporate image if you expect to land this kind of job, so she hauls in Perry Littlewood (Jack Starr) who has a major crush on her, and is visiting his grandma down the hall. Perry is about to graduate from Wharton, and knows of both the company and the interviewer. The first thing he does is get Andrew to tuck his shirt in and change his pants. Then he asks Andrew's wife Celia (Kiki Arnaudo) to put on something a little more dressy, and when she is out of the room he has Andrew hide the books Celia has written (a corporate wife should be too busy with community affairs to have time to write books).

And Perry has Andrew hide the cello which is parked in front of the piano. The cello is a loner's instrument, and Corporate doesn't brook loners.

When Otis shows up, he is met at the door by Andrew's eccentric sister Marian Jellicoe (Helena Clarkson) and the flirting begins.

During the course of the interview, Andrew digs himself deeper and deeper into the hole, lie after lie, with Celia shoveling along with him to beat the band. Perry's grandmother, Emma Littlewood (Peggy Rose) pops in and pretends to be Andrew's mother, and the digging gets even deeper.

Act I ends with Otis asking Marian to dinner. Her reply is "Be there at 7. If I'm there, you'll see me. If I'm not, you won't". A line which is put to good use several times more.


Act II is the next morning, and guess what? Otis pops in again. But Perry has warned Andrew this may happen, and he is prepared. His preparation is aided a bit by Emma, who had stolen the personality quiz from Otis' briefcase the day before. Again it seems to be going well, but as soon as Otis leaves (again with a tentative date with Marian), Celia and Andrew have a row about hiding her books and not acknowledging her as being as well-known in her field as he is in his.

Act III is the morning after, and once again Otis shows up, this time both to find out why Marian ran away the night before and to reveal that he has done his homework, and knew all along that Emma is not Andrew's mom, Celia has a Ph.D. in medieval literature and Andrew plays the cello and drives a Rolls. And we find out from Perry's spying that Otis drives a red jaguar convertible, has a degree in psychology and plays the flute.

In the end, Otis tells Andrew he's got the job, and Andrew tells him "no thanks".

But Otis does get the girl.

The whole cast was excellent. My nitpicks are that once in a while Ammon went over the top when he had to emote, and Vezinaw was too blatant in doing his Jack Benny immitation. There were a few times when lines were forgotten, and this script is not very forgiving when that happens, so there was the occasional dead air. This shouldn't be happening on closing night of a 12-performance run.

And I think Dean had the characters moving around sometimes just to be in motion, rather than for any particular reason. Otis especially made use of way too many pieces of furniture for a first-time visitor to the house.

The set dressing was superb, the set was simple but solid (solidity is something I've come to expect of any set Jim Narveson has a hand in building). Costuming by Sharon Collier (another long-time Menlo Players friend) was right on.

Helena, who is a woman of heroic proportions, was nevertheless very convincing as the resident vamp. Bic Vu is absolutely stunning onstage, and it was totally believable that Perry would have an enormous crush on her. And Starr played the Business Geek In Love part like it was made for him. Peggy Rose was a kick as the granny who shoplifts for a hobby, and has my vote for SCP's best supporting actress award this year. And Kiki (who bills herself as Kay Suzanne, but we all know better) had her three roles down pat - intellectual scientist's partner, fawning wanna-be Corporate wife and the Strong Woman Taking a Stand.

All in all a pleasant experience.
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