A Lunar Eclipse

I, unfortunately, vividly remember George Peppard's sad impersonation of acting last year in The Lion in Winter. I'm steeling myself to face the prospect of Marlo Thomas interpreting John Guare's masterpiece, Six Degrees of Separation, in the coming season. And I've recently come from viewing another impotent TV hack, Adrian Zmed (Remember good ol' Bill Shatner's forgettable sidekick in T.J. Hooker? Not likely.) -- this one muddying the brilliant contemporary musical, Falsettos, now running at the Parker Playhouse.

So I flashed back to an old National Lampoon article that seemed to summarize a recurring problem with road shows. This particular slice of sarcasm, written by Gerald Sussman in October of 1981, recounts a conversation between the author and his friend, a director without influence. They theorize the process of hiring from an ever-descending chain of acting talent, based on one's connections and location. Let me explain by using one or two of their examples, and you'll soon get the drift. You want to hire Dustin Hoffman, you'd settle for Charles Grodin, you get Tony Roberts. Or you want Meryl Streep, you'll settle for Sigourney Weaver, but you get Susan St. James.

In the case of this road show, the logical progression dictates that you want Al Pacino, you'd settle for Ron Silver, you get Adrian Zmed. And I must query why these producers insist on using a third-rate, wood-from-neck-down performer, because he's got name recognition (among a few people besides his immediate family), when they'd be better off headlining the play with local talent. Now that might be novel.

To make suitably short work of it, I'll just say that Zmed's not the only problem with this version of Falsettos. Considering the fact that there's no real set, no huge orchestra, no hit songs -- it's simply an amusing story about alternative-style families struggling through the Eighties -- you need a cast of crackling, barn-raising singers and actors to make the ingenious lyrics and drama work. Director Michael Hall orchestrated that magic at the Caldwell Theatre last year with half of this piece (now Act Two), previously a show unto itself called Falsettoland. In Hall's cast, everyone kept the ball in the air at all times. In the dull touring version, only one of the cast members -- Carolee Carmello -- captures the tonal quality and spirit of the piece, while the other six squeak, quiver, and whine their way through, never connecting with the lyric line (there's no dialogue) or, even more frightening, with their characters. I didn't believe Zmed as father, lover, husband, or friend, and believing an actor is pivotal to the craft.

Falsettos by William Finn and James Lapine couldn't be more sound as a work of musical art; this production couldn't do more to sabotage its inherent quality. The limp rendition brought to mind the image of a beautiful birthday cake on which someone forgot to light the candles -- great foundation, no sparkle. Don't ruin the play for yourself. Wait for a new crew. Fly up to New York -- anything to miss this version. That is, unless you're one of Adrian Zmed's fourteen fans.

On a local level, there's much more satisfaction available and many more smiles to be brought forth -- not to mention a far more reasonable ticket price -- at ACME's Welcome to the Moon. John Patrick Shanley, that master playwright, insinuates himself under your skin again, this time by drawing simple sketches about uncommon people in common situations of need, heartbreak, and healing. Each of the six scenes that make up the piece focuses on the most surreal aspect of life: that moment when you declare true love and/or friendship for someone else, when you lay your heart on the line. Hence the title, welcome to the moon, because that's how crazy you feel.

ACME should be applauded for bringing a subtle show with an almost nonexistent set to the holiday season and letting it succeed by virtue of Shanley's poetic prose and some excellent acting. Carol Cadby and Peter Paul de Leo, long-time company members, walk off with this one, and you should step right up and pay your money to see them. Why? Because these two artists represent homegrown talent, nurtured in this climate and now performing with peak consistency and dramatic weight. Score two big hits for the home team. The scene Cadby and De Leo enact together, a Dali-esque ditty called "Down and Out," contains such artful touches of warmth and comedy that I felt like calling Adrian Zmed and suggesting he take acting lessons with ACME. The seasoned duo shimmers again in "Out West" and "Welcome to the Moon." Telling you any more about these skits would destroy the simple surprise inherent in each, so just go, don't expect Earth-shaking drama, and have an excellent time.

The production possesses some weak spots, such as dim lighting, pleasant but vacuous performances by Travis Culley, Johnny Mendoza, and John Morrow, and a good effort by but unfortunate miscasting of Aymee Garcia, forcing the talented actress into roles she could not possibly pull off. Still, the whole package works nicely as dramatic literature, and director Adalberto Acevedo intelligently stages and guides a tricky little work.

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