AISLE SAY Berkshires & Environs


by Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman
Directed by Jessica Stone

Williamstown Theatre Festival, July 2-13  413-597-3400
1000 Main St. (Rte. 2), Williamstown, MA

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg

June Moon, the 1929 comedy by Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman, has just opened the 2014 season at the Williamstown Festival. (I attended the final preview performance.) The story revolves around hapless Fred Stevens (Nate Corddry), who boards a train in Schenectady headed for New York where he dreams of being a Tin Pan Alley lyricist. In short order he teams up with Paul Sears (Rick Holmes), whose wife, Lucille (Kate MacCluggage), introduces Stevens to her golddigging sister, Eileen Fletcher (Holley Fain). At the same time, Stevens is attracted to the sweet and innocent dental hygienist, Edna Baker (Rachel Napoleon), and it is her honesty that eventually wakens him to the values of loyalty and selfless affection.

Most fascinating about this play is the mix of comic and decidedly non-comic characters. Furthermore, the play doesn’t apologize for the unhappy marriage of Paul and Lucille. Nor does it soften the manipulative Eileen. In fact, the blend of comic and serious characters, and the situations in which they find themselves, makes for an unusually satisfying experience – unusual for someone, like me, who had anticipated a sweet revival of a little-produced period play.

The festival has spared little in bringing this play to the stage: a cast of 27, designs that accurately reflect both the period of the setting and the style with which the originals may have been created. June Moon is a lovely way to open any season and I anticipate that word-of-mouth will be positively enthusiastic.

Nate Corddry is an actor of great charm and gentle delivery. He wisely understands that his character, the engine of the play, is on a constant journey of discovery and must, therefore, react to events and people around him. He is often required to deliver the straight lines that set up others with the punch lines. Not all actors accept this responsibility with grace, but Corddry never fails to play the tone and tempo of each scene with precise understanding. Rachel Napoleon, who plays opposite him as the wide-eyed innocent, Edna, is occasionally over-pitched with excitement, but their balance is convincing and genuinely touching. Kate MacCluggage and Holley Fain, as the wife and her sister, successfully avoid any apology for the characters they play. These are women who know what they want and need from their men, and the world around them, and they sacrifice nothing as they achieve their goals.  

The production is further enhanced by the parade of character actors who provide great snapshots through all three acts. Rick Holmes plays the beleaguered husband, and though not a comic character, the actor’s astute playing reinforces a reality in a world that could so easily revert to caricature. David Turner uses his skill at underplaying comedy to great effect. He lands every comic line but never loses his humanity that, late in the play, sounds a lonely note. Christopher Fitzgerald is just plain funny. His every entrance is the running gag that the audience anticipates and never fails to acknowledge.

The play is well directed by Jessica Stone, though the short rehearsal period reveals that the shifting tone between bitter truth and broader comedy is not yet clear. There are transitions between scenes that feel fractured, as though the actors could have used more time to erase the seams. The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying, made the more so by an extended blackout before the entire cast is revealed onstage singing the title tune. This, too, feels hastily assembled, as though the plan might have been for the ensemble to be moving, or at the very least more physically engaged than they were, seated on chairs around the set.

June Moon is a reminder, and a lovely one too, that forgotten plays can be retrieved and given a life that goes beyond museum artifact. Thanks to the Williamstown Festival for reviving this little gem.

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