By Sandi Durell
Thomas Klingenstein’s If Only, currently at the Cherry Lane Theater, is set in 1901 New York. It discusses racial divides, politics and reminisces about what might have been.
When we meet Ann Astorcott (played by the fine Melissa Gilbert) she is passionately reading about one love of her life, Abraham Lincoln, whom she met in social circles back in the day. She is a restrained affluent woman, wishing to break out from a rigid marriage and husband Henry (Richmond Hoxie) of whom we see very little. She awaits a visit from a friend whom she hasn’t seen in 36 years, Samuel Johnson (a forceful Mark Kenneth Smaltz) a history teacher who was an ex-slave befriended by Mr. Lincoln.
When they do meet, their banter and interchange immediately make it obvious they had been romantically involved, albeit Ann is in denial all these years later. In their short time together, he attempts to bring back her free spirited younger self by giving her the permission she seems to crave to move forward, even briefly with ordinary daily life desires like moving the furniture around to better please herself. They tease, taunt and attempt to evoke their younger selves, recalling and reliving what might have been.
Thrown into the mix is a young mute girl Sophie, played by Korinne Tetlow, whom Ann has taken on being a socially conscious and caring person, who also fills her need of not having her own children. It would appear that both the character of this young child and Mr. Astorcott might be totally eliminated since their appearances are short lived, adding little value to the story. They might just as well be referenced for the minor benefit they provide.
The play, directed by Christopher McElroen, doesn’t get off the ground, as it circles round and round seeking some real substance. If Only, unfortunately, has several missed opportunities.
If Only runs thru Sept. 17 at Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce Street, NYC. Performance time is 85 minutes.
Photos: Carol Rosegg