by: Peter Haas
It’s a celebration ― of that collaborative community known as theater, of its classic plays, of acting companies across the boundaries of nations and time, and of one acting company in particular, New York’s Pearl Theatre.
It’s a new play, And Away We Go, written by four-time Tony Award winner Terrence McNally expressly for The Pearl on its 30th anniversary, and playing its world premiere at the group’s charming, intimate theater space on West 42nd Street.
The cast consists of six men and women, members of The Pearl’s resident acting company, who, under the direction of Jack Cummings III, together portray some 30 different members of their profession: producer, writer, set designer, stage manager, artistic director, prop masters, actors (of course), and more. Following them through the centuries, we’re taken ― on a single set representing a theater’s cluttered backstage ― from the present time to ancient Athens to England’s Globe to Versailles’ Royal Theater to Russia (where Chekhov is reading a new play) and back to our own era and the American premiere of Waiting for Godot, with no less an off-stage star as Bert Lahr.
The performers are magnetic. Four are veterans of The Pearl company: Rachel Botchan, Dominic Cuskern, Sean McNall and Carol Schultz. Two are newcomers to the troupe: Donna Lynne Champlin and Micah Stock. All, in the same modern dress throughout, morph among eras, countries, characters and situations ― so smoothly, in fact, that it sometimes becomes difficult to determine just which century or which locale we’re in. To add to the complexity, one board member of a contemporary acting company chats away with the cast of one of centuries past. That mix, and the playwright’s sometimes incoherent mix of space and time, mars a viewer’s complete satisfaction with the evening. The huge plus, however, is that “And Away We Go” provides the opportunity and enjoyment of watching good actors, particularly as they parade before us as … good actors.
The Pearl enriches the theater experience with a handsome Playbill-sized booklet which not only profiles the actors, writer and production staff– and lists the donors ― but also contains a thoughtful essay by The Pearl’s Artistic Director, Kate Farrington. Writing about the eras depicted in McNally’s play as well as about The Pearl’s collaboration with him, Farrington talks about “the journey of theater.” It is one, she writes, “that we undertake together … actors and playwright, naturally, but also audiences, patrons and all those who love theatre from the edges of the stage.” The Pearl, throughout its history, has always enhanced that journey.
“And Away We Go” continues at The Pearl through December 21.