Retro Productions Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary Season with The Butter and Egg Man by George S. Kaufman
Review by Susan Hasho
The Butter and Egg Man is a little known classic of George S. Kaufman about the thrill and the vagaries of the theater, how the producers exploit, well, everybody. And it’s really about see a patsy and go for it. And it’s really about how the really sincere people win out in the end and quit show business to move back to the small town they came from, maybe. The production comes alive in very funny ways in Act II, scene 2 when all the characters heretofore familiar and the director converge in a hotel room to discuss what’s wrong with the play that they’re trying out of town in Syracuse. Oh my god, a couple of drinks, a lot of hurt pride, and vanity galore and the scene sizzles with fun. This scene is directed and played beautifully.
But, even though Act II, scene 2 is delicious, the lead up to this scene is uneven. Brian Stillman playing Joe Lehman the impresario producer makes a big hullabaloo at the top of Act One which continues until Act Two. Of course, sticking your neck out as an actor, taking comic risks to hit the mark is a good thing. But he leaves himself out to swing too long and can’t quite pull back until the delicious scene in the hotel room of Act II when he gets very quiet and very effective. The designated sidekick Jack McClure as played by Matthew Trumball, a charming guy, becomes a little stiff as he progresses. Heather E. Cunningham as the wife Fanny Lehman overplays at the beginning but calms down a bit to realize an insistent sarcastic streak and great comic timing. Shay Gines, as the diva, Mary Martin (sic) again at the top, overreaches but all along shows signs, when truly connected to herself and the thrust of the play, of a Marin Mazzie in Bullets Over Broadway “no, no, don’t speak” kind of spark. Alisha Spielmann as the ingénue secretary Jane Weston is spot on, as is the potentially duped guy from Chillicothe, Ohio, Peter Jones, played by the charmingly sincere Ben Schnickel. But for some unexplainable magical reason it is Ryan McCurdy as Oscar Fritchie, the hotel manager, who almost steals the show. His detailed, quirky performance is so comically peculiar and yet so honest that it’s like watching someone trip on a banana peel. You want to look away but it’s too fun and you can’t.
The director Ricardo Rust has a lot of experience as a choreographer, and the choreographed scene changes are clever and entertaining. But as a director he has missed an opportunity to shape the full scope of his actors and the play. He allows the actors to go for it without providing a standard for the emotional truth of a scene, or the variable rhythm of a character. He is working with very talented people who need a guiding hand and it seems that he’s not shaped the play as much as he’s given free reign. The play has pitfalls but it is also written by an excellent craftsman in George S. Kaufman—there’s a lot there, there. This production has a lot of potential—just not quite there, yet.
Cast also includes: C.J. Malloy (a Waiter), Chad Anthony Miller (Cecil Benham), Seth Sheldon (Bernie Sampson and A.J. Patterson), Sarah K. Lippmann (Peggy Marlowe), and Rebecca Gray Davis (Kitty Humpries),
May 15 – 30, 2015 at the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street (Between Lafayette & Bowery), New York, NY 10023. Subways: 6 to Bleecker Street, B/D/F/M to Broadway/Lafayette. Tickets are $18.00 (adults), $15.00 (students/seniors), and $10.00 (children under 12) and are available at www.retroproductions.org.
Tickets are $18.00 (adults), $15.00 (students/seniors), and $10.00 (children under 12) and are available at www.retroproductions.org. This production is appropriate for kids and is recommended for children 7 and up.