KPBS AIRDATE: JUNE 24, 1998
Four inept middle managers on a corporate teambuilding retreat, hit the water when their rowboat hits the rocks, and they’re stranded on an inland island in England’s Lake District. They’re out of the office and way out of their element. Forget the teamwork; panic, anxiety, antipathy and the dissolution of relationships ensue. But for God’s sake, they’re only a football field-distance away from their hotel, dry land, dry clothes and additional cellphones. So that kinda makes the whole enterprise of “Neville’s Island” seem pretty silly (not to mention lengthy. This is a situation dramedy; two acts and 2+ hours is way too long).
Nevertheless, there are some humorous, some poignant and some downright poetic moments in Peter Firth’s 1991 play, which is lushly designed to fit snugly and inventively onto the Cassius Carter Centre Stage. The play’s a trifle, to be sure, but it does say something about coping and male bonding, boys who will-be-boys, and men who can’t quite bring themselves to say ‘I Love You’ to their wives. Since the situation is so contrived, it’s hard to work up any real steam about the characters or the play, but the language is often potent and the performances are uniformly excellent. Mark Ryan, as the acidic and explosive Gordon, and Curtis Armstrong, as his hapless, Yuppie, dim-witted victim, frequently butt heads, to both painful and funny effect.
Andrew Traister, who last year directed “Below the Belt,” another dark workplace comedy, has a good feel for this kind of material, being able to underscore the angst and absurdity, without bludgeoning the piece to death. This cannot be said of “Tintypes,” next door at the Old Globe.
The Globe and Hartford Stage Theatre have teamed up for a 20th anniversary production of “Tintypes,” though I haven’t the vaguest idea why. It’s one of those ubiquitous musical revues that brings back a bunch of nostalgic old songs with nothing of substance to tie them together. Yes, well, we are approaching the millennium and “Tintypes” is about the last turn-of-a-century. But it covers the same era and the same mix of real and fictional characters as “Ragtime,” but it’s much duller, with no story-line, and only snapshots of those characters, not any fleshed out people to speak of.
Besides a pleasant, woody, overly elaborate set and lively musical accompaniment, this production has very little to commend it. Even the cast, usually a sure bet at the Globe, is variable. The voices are okay, but the five actors have no real energy, charisma or camaraderie. Some can sing but not act. Only one can dance. Whatever happened to triple-threat performers?
Overall, this is a joyless, at times even a numbing, production. Director-choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett has put her focus in all the wrong places. There’s scarcely any humor, and attempts in that direction fall astonishingly flat. The darker sides of our early history are highlighted, with little counterbalance. Also italicized, and even exaggerated, are the undertones of prejudice, from gratuitously nasty comments about the Irish, to stereotyped costuming of a South American, to decidedly racist takes on songs like “Shortnin’ Bread” and “She’s Gettin’ More Like the White Folks Every Day.” The 50 musical numbers range from the very well known to the little-known, and they’re not enough to carry the show, especially in the absence of any real choreography, and a dreary over reliance on mime. Some of the vocal arrangements actually detract from the melodies, such as the sluggish, repetitively regular tempo of “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
This certainly isn’t the type of play or production that’s going to attract a vibrant young audience, and that’s what the Globe needs more than almost any other theater in town. It also needs a new play selection committee, especially after this lackluster season. Summer’s coming; let’s hope for sunnier days ahead.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.