Solana Beach, CA-----Director Andrew Barnicle (“Odd Couple” and “Lion In Winter” at North Coast) is no stranger to San Diego stages having directed many shows at The Old Globe. This is his tenth at NCR.
He is back and much to our delight, he has assembled a crackerjack cast (with standout performance by Jason Maddy) for North Coast’s current show, “Who Am I This Time?” (& Other conundrums of love) an Aaron Posner (“My Name is Asher Lev” seen at NCR) adaptation of three short stories; comedic centerpieces by Kurt Vonnegut taken from his anthology “Welcome to the Monkey House”. Right off the bat, these three short stories are delightful, charming and somewhat thought provoking pieces.
But first: While waiting for the house to open at NCR and enjoying a cup of coffee, a gentleman approached our little group and started chatting. I thought he was part of the theatre management and responded in kind. He was easily approachable, had an easy way about him and was…well, easy. After a while a he moved away and kind of disappeared into the theatre. He never introduced himself.
You can imagine my surprise when actor James Leaming, the very same person that approached our table, walked on to the stage and began addressing the audience. Again, I thought he was a member of the board filling in for Artistic Director David Ellenstein.
But something was amiss. He reminded me of Mr. Rogers of “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood”. I half expected him to slip into a cardigan sweater as he took on his character as narrator and storyteller extraordinaire.
As Tom Newton or Newt, the narrator speaking to us from the stage of the North Crawford Mask & Wig Club of North Crawford Connecticut, he was mesmerizing. His manner came across just as it did in my earlier conversation, easy and likeable. Addressing the audience and participating in a little give and take put everyone at ease, which made for a very relaxing and engaging afternoon/evening of theatre.
Leaming is making his NCR debut in “Who Am I?” and I hope it won’t be his last. As the defining strand that holds these three stories together he threads the needle effortlessly from one love story to another by beginning with “Once upon a time…there was a boy and there was a girl.
It was 1962 and the subject was…LOVE!
After introducing us to the cast of players and a brief lesson on stagecraft; lighting, curtains sets, etc., he assures us that the stories he’s about to tell are ‘true’. ‘The Long Walk To Forever’
Story one tells us how Newt and his wife, wound up together by taking us back to the beginning: Newt is at Kate’s door. They were next-door neighbors, school chums and good friends, easy and comfortable with each other but ‘never any talk of love’.
Now both have graduated High School and Newt is in the Army but has gone AWOL to come face to face with Catherine who is about to be married the following week. Newt’s job is to try to convince her that it is HE who loves her and she should marry him instead.
“Can we take a walk?” “One foot in front of the other.” “One foot in front of the other-through the leaves…over bridges…they add up the steps.” Finally, she had no choice. According to Newt, “And so it goes… And so it goes.” And so at this point we are completely taken in with Newt’s charm, as was Kate. “Real to Life true story” according to Newt.
Story two takes place in the rehearsal room of the Mask and Wig Club where the now adult Newt and Doris are discussing the leads for their new production of “Streetcar”. Harry Nash (Maddy) is all but tongue-tied as city hardware clerk but it is agreed that he is the best the town has to offer as Stanley. He barely looks up when being addressed and can hardly utter a word without breaking into a sweat.
But get him on stage and assign him a role (“Who am I this time?”) and he becomes a tiger, sexy and passionate! Place him opposite the equally shy Helene (Christine Flynn) new in town representing the telephone company and you have a raging fire on that stage as Stanley Kowalski and Stella burn with a passion that, in case you were wondering, lasted as long as the couple (now married) stepped into a different movie role. Their love experience is based on who they are ‘this time’, say “Romeo & Juliet”?
Story three, “Go Back To Your Precious Wife and Son”, takes up the entire second act and is a bit different than the other two. Newt is still the storyteller, but now he is a window salesperson/installer who also, by nature of his job, installs showers and bathtubs. He’s more mature, the father of a teenaged daughter and settled into the humdrum of middle-aged life. When he learns that the world famous actress, reigning queen of the silver screen, Gloria Hilton (Rosina Reynolds) and her fourth husband, George Murra (Gregory North), the writer, have decided to take up residence in North Crawford he about goes gaga.
Newt learns, as he is stuck in between a rock and a hard place installing an enclosure in their bathroom that they wanted ‘heated’, that all was not kosher between the couple as they argued about love…”Don’t you dare talk to me about love! You don’t know the meaning of the word LOVE!” This after George left his wife and fifteen-year-old son to run off with Gloria, was an earth shattering exposition! “I pity anyone who cannot love,” exclaims Gloria. And with that, walks out of his life and North Crawford.
'And so it goes, and so it goes'. George and Newt go head to head in negotiating over what to do with the custom shower door he ordered and eventually the two end up getting good and drunk together all the while discussing family, broken hearts, philosophy and LOVE.
As mentioned earlier, the entire cast work amazingly well in this production as each actor takes on several roles but never is there a conflict as to who and what.
Maddy is perfect as the shy Harry Nash and also as Roy Crocker, Jr., a plumber. Ben Cole is adorable as the young Newt, Joey the stage manager and young John Murra; Christine Flynn is Catherine, Helen Shaw and Paula Newton. Gregory North is Vern Miller the hardware store owner and George Murra, Gloria’s husband. Cynthia Marty is Kate Newton, Tom’s wife and Rosina Reynolds plays Doris Sawyer the librarian and community theatre director and Gloria Hilton and of course Leaming is Newt.
Marty Burnett’s minimalist set; a table, a chair, a pay telephone, a piano, a flight of stairs going nowhere, and a door provide the props needed and Matt Novotny’s subtle lighting warms the set beautifully while Sonia Elizabeth Lerner’s costumes are spot on period. Chris Luessmann’s sound completes this lovely ode to love.
“What makes us human is our ability to love”. And love is what it’s all about in North Crawford, Conn. It may sound corny but, in truth, it's warm and fuzzy.
Meet you there.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Feb. 2nd
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Ste. D
Ticket Prices: $44.00-$48.00