Chevy Chase Players The Gingerbread LadyBy Laura & Mike Clark • Nov 2nd, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Chevy Chase Players
Chevy Chase Community Center, Washington, DC
Through November 12th
2:30 with one intermission and one pause
$15/$13 Seniors and Students
Reviewed October 28th, 2011
The Gingerbread Lady is a play in three acts by Neil Simon. Evy Meara, a former cabaret singer has undergone treatment for alcohol abuse at a rehab facility in New York. She returns home to start anew with good supportive friends, but finds some of her past demons are also waiting at the door.
The Gingerbread Lady is darker and more serious than other Neil Simon plays. It will make you laugh, but also think of the long road back from addiction.
Evy Meara, played by Lennie Magida, gave a strong performance as the recovering alcoholic. Magida made Meara nervous but determined to start over again. She was a fast talker and when she became upset the anger really showed. Her emotions changed rapidly as she talked with her friends. It seemed like her going from tipsy to intoxicated happened really quickly, but perhaps her resistance was lower and she was not ready, or Mera wasn’t honest as she told Jimmy how much she had to drink when outside the apartment.
Meara’s two friends, Jimmy and Toby were supportive as Meara returned home, but they weren’t ready for the challenges that awaited her. The play takes place in 1970, which probably explains why Jimmy and Toby were uncomfortable with the idea of their friend in a rehab clinic. If the play took place today, they would be sending out press releases about Evy “getting some rest.”
Jimmy (Ted Culler) was pretty amusing. Culler nailed the overly emotional theatre persona quite well. His scene with Magida in the second act was quite powerful. He was looking for a shoulder to cry on, but Meara was too drunk to notice and Jimmy was forced to make a hard decision. Toby Landau, Meara’s longtime friend, was played by Meredith Fogle. Toby was obsessed with her looks. Fogle went to Evy for support after her own crisis, but again Evy was too intoxicated and instead a big scene ensued. Toby however, gave in much more easily and was there for her in the third act when Evy finally returned to her home. All of the angry scenes were well done and the emotion among all the actors seemed very real.
The arrival of Evy’s daughter Polly, played by Jamie Bazen, was the final piece of the puzzle of Evy’s future life. Bazen created perhaps the weakest of the major characters. For example, she did not always know what to do with her hands and simply stood in place for many of her lines. Bazen and Magida appeared somewhat awkward with each other at first, which worked really well for the characters. But later as the two were more comfortable, almost as if their roles had been reversed with Polly mothering Evy. Evy had to learn a huge lesson, how to be a mother. A big blowup came in a powerful scene in the second act when Evy was drunk and Polly was angry and hurt. Polly could have reacted physically more than she did, but the emotions on her face seemed true.
Although minor characters, Manny the delivery boy and Lou Tanner the ex-boyfriend were necessary to set the scene and provide a look into Evy’s past. Manny (Michael Jacobson) was friendly and easy-going. But he was not about to leave without getting paid. He may have had an accent, but it seemed to drift in and out. Victor Maldonado (Lou Tanner) was only in one scene, but he brought up many emotions in Evy that she hoped were long-buried. She and Lou greeted each other like oil and water, and Lou knew all the right buttons to push.
Set Designer Jim Robertson and Mary MacFarlane made good use of the space at Chevy Chase. The apartment was somewhat crowded as New York Brownstones tend to be. The 1970’s coloring was appropriate. Negin Pahlavan’s costumes were generic which allowed the focus to be on the acting. Jim Robertson’s light design allowed for the apartment to be pitch black when called for, leaving the audience uncomfortable while allowing Evy to hide from her problems.
This show has some humorous bits, but is overall a serious Neil Simon work. This is the first production of The Gingerbread Lady in the DC region in 20 years, so catch it while you can. Also note that the entire season of the Chevy Chase Players is dedicated to Neil Simon, with Barefoot In The Park and The Sunshine Boys coming in 2012.
Lillian Hellman bitterly learned as a young playwright the pitfalls of trying to mix comedy and tragedy. I have held fast to the belief that if it happens in life, why can’t it happen on stage? – Neil Simon
I couldn’t agree more, The Gingerbread Lady is an extraordinary example of Simon’s unique ability to seamlessly blend these two genres, tackling dark and challenging subject matter with the wit and realism that only this legendary playwright can create. Nonetheless, the play is one of Simon’s least known and least commercially successful works. It enjoyed only a brief run on Broadway in 1970, and although it won a Tony for for its lead Actress, Maureen Stapleton, the play received primarily middling reviews from the major critics.
Perhaps this is because Gingerbread was Simon’s earliest venture into more “serious” subject matter. Although even his most comic pieces have a tinge of the dramatic, it was this play that marked his full-force plunge into the depths of tragedy while holding fast to his trademark wit.
Frankly, I don’t think the public or the critics were ready for it: “The story of a crass, foul-mouthed alcoholic lounge singer who’s just been released from rehab! Oh and by the way, it’s really funny!” Not an easy sell in 1970, especially because Simon’s plays up to that point–Come Blow Your Horn, The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park–were flat-out comic pieces. Naturally this is what everyone came to expect from the playwright. When any artist steps outside his realm of expectations, it often takes some time for those who have defined him to broaden their vision and willingly venture into new territory . For Simon, it was not until the mid-1980’s with his autobiographical “Brighton Trilogy”–The Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound–that the public and critics began to fully recognize Simon’s talent for mining complex and deeply emotional material with honesty and humor. Finally, in 1991 Lost in Yonkers won Simon his first Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and his exceptional talent at last achieved the recognition it so richly deserved. But it was The Gingerbread Lady that paved the way.
As with all of this renowned playwright’s work, it is the characters of The Gingerbread Lady who are at the heart and soul of this witty and poignant play. Evy, Polly, Jimmy, and Toby are among the richest and most original of the Simon cannon. Funny, and charming, witty and wise, yet oh so flawed, they are, for better or worse, utterly human. I fell in love with them at first sight. Now, as they are portrayed by the talented cast that I have had the good fortune to direct in this production, I dare you not to do the same.
– Aly B. Ettman
Photos by Nina Schidlovsky
- Jimmy Perry: Ted Culler
- Manny: Michael Jacobsen
- Toby Landau: Meredith Fogle
- Evy Meara: Lennie Magida
- Polly Meara: Jamie Bazen
- Lou Tanner: Victor Maldonado
- Director: Aly B. Ettman
- Producer: Jim Robertson
- Assistant Director: Negin Pahlavan
- Stage Manager: David Jung
- Set Design: Aly B. Ettman, Negin Pahlavan, Mary Macfarlane
- Set Construction/Painting: Jim Robertson, David Jung
- Set Decoration & Dressing: Aly B. Ettman, Negin Pahlavan
- Light Design: Jim Robertson
- Light Operation: Mary Macfarlane
- Sound Design: Aly B. Ettman, Sally Hamidi
- Sound Operation: Sally Hamidi
- Props: Negin Pahlavan, David Jung
- Costumes: Negin Pahlavan
- Makeup: Negin Pahlavan
- Program: Lennie Magida
- Photography: Negin Pahlavan, Nina Schidlovsky
- Box Office/Hospitality: Peter Chewning Hugh Pettigrew, Karen Pettigrew, Mary Ann Robertson, Brenda Shaw, Helen Templin, Joanne Young
Disclaimer: Chevy Chase Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7307.
Laura & Mike Clark started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.