by Bernie Yanelli
Directed by Jeffrey Kin
The Players Theatre
838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota,  941-365-2494
June 23-26 & July 21-24, 2011

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

Winner of The Players of Sarasota's 2010 New Playwriting Festival and thus enjoying a world premiere,  Undaunted  offers an interesting subject,  Alexander Hamilton,  and a chance to learn other than the usual "textbook things" about him. History teacher Bernie Yanelli weaves  bits about Hamilton's exploits as a soldier, statesman,  politician, person of learning into his drama.  But his personal ambition, a major sex scandal and enmities with major figures such as Jefferson almost overwhelm  the whole impression here of his importance to the American economy,  anti-slavery sentiment,  internationalism and industrialization. Every nuance of Hamilton's affair with a prostitute,  presented here as victim of a murderous husband and requiring Hamilton to rescue her from abandonment,  is emphasized along with the scandal's effects on Hamilton and his family.  The author has said he mixed fiction with the facts. One wishes one could always tell which is which.

Polished Tom Aposporos as Gouvernor Morris convinces of his friendship for Hamilton and understanding of his importance to the nation, while proving astute in his advice relative to the affair. The strength and love for husband Lilian Moore demonstrates as Betsy Hamilton makes believable her willingness to put up with  pressures of keeping an expected kind of household without servants or enough money.  What a responsible son she has raised,  Jason Ellis shows,  as well  as righteous anger and hurt over his father's indiscretions. Articulate Mary Jo Johnson's outspoken Angelica keeps reminding sister Betsy how she could have wed  into riches as she and their friends did. Close to naturalistic modern characterizations are Brooke Wagstaff's enticing but enigmatic Maria Reynolds and Barry Look's James Reynolds, her violent,  obnoxious, blackmailing husband.

But what is one to make of Mike Phelan's handsome but stiff Hamilton? Hamilton seems always  at odds with just about every man,  supposedly smart but leaving a love sonnet with Maria at a time rife with rumors. No danger seems to give Hamilton pause, and Phelan either goes on gung-ho (mostly talking) or wears a blank expression. He's awkward  enough in romantic scenes to project  a closeted gay.  He acts like an accomplice of the playwright  in a father-son talk that fails to disguise a load of foreshadowing. Some of these problems need addressing by the director,  along with pacing. The set shows three places of which one side is Hamilton's study and center is the parlor. (The other, with  small round table,  simply but effectively denotes the Reynolds house.) At times, movement  from one to the other place is slow,  even unnecessary. It takes too long to make minor changes on the set between  scenes. One would also hope that by the second repertory appearances of the play Angela can get an additional dress. How can she claim to Betsy to be so much better kept if she wears  the same outfit over a considerable amount of time? (We forgive Betsy and Maria's appropriate lack of fashion.)

This is Bernie Yanelli's second Winning New Play. I didn't see the first, but find this one excellent in conception but lacking in realization. For two hours, ten minutes,  it attempts too much background and then lingers too long on one aspect of the Hamilton story.

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