The New Phoenix Theatre has opened its 2012-13 season with playwright Keith Waterhouse's adaptation of, and elaboration upon, a minor classic of late Victorian literature, DIARY OF A NOBODY. The play, which was directed by Robert Waterhouse (son of the late playwright), plays weekends at the New Phoenix
through October 13th. The show runs approximately two hours with its single intermission. Thursday nights are pay-what-you-can.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: England, 1890's. A year (or so) in the lives of Charles and Carrie Pooter, striving members of the middle class, shortly following their move to a new house in North London. The story, brimming with the little details of day to day existence, is told in the form of fictional, interwoven (and sometimes competitive) his-and-hers diary entries. These are "read out" directly to the audience, although there is some ongoing banter between the Mister and Missus, and occasional bits of "play acting", where talked-about characters are briefly impersonated. Unfortunately, many ancillary characters of import are merely talked about, a deadening theatrical experience.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: MR. AND MRS. NOBODY is basically a two-character play, although there are two other actors in it (Claire Spangelthal and Guy De Federici), providing the barest of support. As the Pooters, Richard Lambert and Josephine Hogan are both "on their game", bringing this aspiring ass of a clerk and his equally aspiring, sweet-and-sour wife convincingly to life. Their accomplishment is the greater in that the script provides them with such limited theatrical opportunity. Playwright Waterhouse has attempted to fashion a two hour "entertainment" out of a dusty old tome which is, at its best... droll. Any "bite", any social commentary that the story might have had for its original audience, has been thoroughly lost with the years. Consequently, while NOBODY can still provoke the occasional titter, it is saddled with so much that is trivial, esoteric, irrelevant that the viewer may well find himself/herself lulled to sleep. My companion succumbed. Aside from the obvious Waterhouse connection, it is hard to see what the New Phoenix would "see" in a piece like this one. As a Curtain Up! season opener, it is really most inadequate. That said, the present production is a handsome one--nicely detailed set, pretty period costumes. Robert Waterhouse does what he can to enliven things by moving the actors about. There is even some original music for piano and cello to help set the mood!
While the production itself is on the Four Buffalo plane, this theater experience as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. Unless you are a Victorian scholar, or a big fan of the likes of Jerome K. Jerome (THREE MEN IN A BOAT), I would strongly consider giving this one a pass!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who's happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don't go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb--a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you'd be a fool to miss it!