Monday, March 10, 2014

'Tis the Season

Although I often have difficulty remembering what month it is, I have not totally lost track of the fact that it's March rather than December.  Trust me, though, that the "season" in Southwest Florida makes the demands of the holiday season seem paltry by comparison.  Here's my line-up for a 24 hour period last week-end.

Ralph Yankwitt as Zero
Saturday night: Zero Hour at the Charlotte Players' Langdon House. Ralph Yankwitt assumed the role of Zero Mostel in this one man show.  The year is 1977, and Zero is being interviewed by a reporter from the New York Times.

I have always thought of Zero Mostel as a comedic actor.  This is probably because I had the great pleasure of seeing Nathan Lane portray the characters Mostel played in both The Producers and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. And so I somehow expected that this persona extended to his personal life.  Wrong.  While the play had its comedic moments, much of it was about the McCarthy era and the effect blacklisting had on Mostel and his friends.  (Mostel was blacklisted for ten years as a result of allegedly attending a Communist meeting.)

I was disappointed to learn that Jerome Robbins (born Rabinowitz) was one of the people who "named names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Ironically, it was Robbins who was called in to fix A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum when it was falling flat.  This put Mostel in a difficult position.  He comments in the play that, while he despises Robbins, he doesn't feel that he should refuse to work with him because of his actions.  Wouldn't that be akin to blacklisting? (There is the question of whether you want to put money in the pocket of someone whose views/actions you find repugnant, but that is well beyond the scope of this blog.)

Ralph Yankwitt did an excellent job in the role of Zero.  He has good timing and wasn't distracted by having friends and family in the audience or by someone's cell phone going off -- twice.   Definitely an interesting and enjoyable evening of theater.

George Mancini on trombone
and Peter Orfanello on bass
Sunday late morning:  Jazz brunch at the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club to benefit the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.  What could be more pleasant than spending two hours enjoying good friends and good food while listening to a jazz quartet perform old standards?

Sunday early evening:  Performance of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters at the Women's Club to benefit the Punta Gorda Historical Society.  Sherry Campbell Bechtold and George Sullivan performed together in a production of The Cemetery Club at a theater on Cape Cod.  When they realized that they both spent their winters in Southwest Florida, they decided to team up to put on Love Letters.

I have had the chance to see Love Letters on any number of occasions.  When the show was on Broadway, an assortment of big names played the roles of Melissa and Andy, the pair who exchange letters for more than 40 years.  The show never made it to my "must see" list, probably because I expected the letters to be flowery rather than funny. In any event, my previous reluctance allowed me to come fresh to Sherry and George's performance, which I loved from start to finish.

Sherry Campbell Bechtold and George Sullivan
in Love Letters
From the first moments of the show, I was enthralled.  The letter writing began when the duo was in second grade, and their running conversation was hilarious.  I loved many of the lines, but one of my favorites has to have been when the pair recited, in unison, "I will not write personal notes in class.  I will not write personal notes in class.  I will not write personal notes in class."

Melissa is full of spunk and has no qualms about telling George that his letters are boring or too long.  A budding artist, she often includes a drawing with her note.  The descriptions are often laugh out loud funny.  Andy is much more serious in his approach to both life and his writing.  A lawyer in the making, he is quite earnest, and a great counterpoint to Melissa's somewhat flighty nature.

Both Sherry and George fully inhabited their characters.  Their voices and expressions hit just the right chords.  It was truly a magical performance.

And here's some good news.  If you're in the Punta Gorda area, there will be an encore performance of Love Letters at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26th, at the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association.  This is one performance you shouldn't miss.  It will be a wonderful evening of theater presented by two of our talented local actors.  Who knows -- I might even see you there!

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