Old Friends: Late Nights in Smoky Bars
by JK Clarke
Watching the Barbara Bleier/Austin Pendleton performance, Late Nights in Smoky Bars—playing periodically this summer at Pangea in the East Village—I can’t help of thinking of the Simon & Garfunkel lyrics “Old friends, old friends/ Sat on their parkbench like bookends.” Framed like a casual meeting at a club to reminisce and sing, Bleier and Pendleton’s performance (directed by Barbara Maier) is a paean to friendship, the passage of time and the joy of years of performing together.
Casually attired in a short-sleeved shirt and jeans, Pendleton arrives after contacting Bleier by cell phone, explaining that he’s gone to the wrong club because he’s mixed up the date with someone else (and is in Forest Hills, no less!), but will arrive shortly, so Bleier, attired in a black dress with a Persian pattern, starts the show forgivingly with “Dear Friend” (Charles Strouse), then leads into the Rodgers & Hammerstein number from South Pacific, “A Cockeyed Optimist.” Finally Pendleton joins Bleier in the aptly named, “Old Friend,” (Gretchen Cryer & Nancy Ford).
From there the two trade off with solos and join for duets, Pendleton starting with another Rodgers & Hammerstein piece, “Something Wonderful” (from The King and I), and Pendleton, best known as an acclaimed actor and director of stage, television and film shows why he was cast as Motel in the original production of A Fiddler on the Roof. He doesn’t merely perform a song, he experiences it. As does Bleier. When he tells us his daughter is getting married in the fall and then sings for her, “More I Cannot Wish You,” (Frank Loesser), you cannot imagine a more tender expression from a father.
But despite the tender moments the memory of a life shared is jovial and teasing, as in Maltby and Shire’s “There,” when the two act out the life of a couple who love, but tolerate each other, Pendleton shoots Bleier a disbelieving, astonished double-take when she sings that she’d “went out and had an affair.” But as old friends, or even an old married couple, they’re forgiving and resigned to the vagaries of life. “Ah shaddup,” Austin snipes at Bleier at the end of wisecrack-laden “You’re Only Old Once” (A. McBroom & M. Brourman).
But at the end they’ve had their moment, they tell us in “Our Time,” (Sondheim), in a beautifully sung duet and they’re “Old Friends” (the Sondheim one, this time) when all is said and done. And that’s the spirit of the show. Old companions in art who enjoy performing and singing together. Though the hour is neither late, nor the bar smoky, we’re grateful they’re sharing their special relationship with us.
Late Nights in Smoky Bars. Remaining performance: Tuesday, August 9, 7 PM at Pangea (178 Second Avenue, between 11th and 12th Streets). www.pangeanyc.com or call (212) 995-0900.
Photos: JK Clarke