Review By Sandi Durell . . .
You know her, you’ve seen her in the classic Joel Grey directed Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof . . . it’s Jackie Hoffman taking on a new twist at The Cell on West 23rd Street as Fruma Sarah ready to take off from the wings of a small local theater company in Roselle Park, NJ. as Ariana Russo, a local real estate broker whose soul comes alive as a local actress. Her schmatta layered dress with oodles of fabric, which she refers to as her ostrich nest (by Bobby Goodrich), more than fits the occasion. In 75 minutes you are witness to E. Dale Smith’s backstage comedy, directed by Braden M. Burns – which isn’t always a laugh a minute – so much as it is a catharsis.
These days the ego-inflated local Rosell Park Society actress isn’t having the best of times as she readies for her 3-minute spotlight flight at the conclusion of the Fiddler on the Roof production taking place on stage. We hear snippets of the glorious Fiddler tunes as we watch Ariana guzzle down bourbon from a flask she’s hidden in the backstage dresser drawer. Her pessimism is front and center and her dislike for her fellow actress, Annie O’Brien (“the Meryl Streep of Central, NJ”) who now gets all the leading roles, is filled with venom.
Ariana does her best to disarm Margo Peterson (Kelly Kinsella) who is a substitute backstage fly captain for that night, with continued verbal attacks. But Margo isn’t having any of it as she stands up to the drunken Ariana letting her know why she’s no longer getting the leading roles. It’s her lousy attitude and everyone is fed up with her. We learn more about Margo whose full time job is a receptionist at a vet’s office and that she has a son named Brooklyn who’s giving her a hard time. She also has an MFA in theater design from NYU and has been offered what could be a life-changing job.
Hoffman is the queen of delivery and wise-cracks, and many of the jokes land where they should as Ariana talks too loudly and incessantly in her backstage fly hookup waiting for her moment of glory, lambasting everyone especially Annie O’Brien. But . . . “well, it doesn’t really matter as long as everybody’s having fun.”
The serious side of it all emerges – her marriage to Steve, from whom she is divorced, finding out he is gay – “Nobody tells 17 yr. old girls that they shouldn’t fall in love with boys who do musicals” and a daughter who has nothing to do with her.
Listening to Hoffman recite her stream of consciousness dialogue is impressive. She’s witty and wry and the best in these situations. But you tend to glaze over as the flow of comedy suddenly takes a heavy duty turn and actually becomes too serious and a downer. And I was hoping that Fruma Sarah would actually take flight at the conclusion (no spoiler intended).
The play, however, produced one of those unusual feelings of deja vu when I, and probably the entire packed house, shared the mutual high of being in a theater after 15 months of lockdown.
Fruma Sarah (Waiting in the Wings) continues thru July 25 at The Cell, 338 West 23 St. NYC www.frumasarah.com