How did he do it? How did one of America’s most beloved and prolific playwrights do it every single time? Neil Simon never met you. He never met me. He never met your friends or in-laws. Yet, he knew how and why we ticked.
Traditionally, writers of anything are told: "write what you know". Hopefully, writing what we know will catapult us into published bliss . . . and/or excommunicate us from our families. Writers in any genre are keen observers of life, and as such, are also trusted scribes and shrewd reporters of the human condition.
In his directorial debut of a full-length show at New Bedford’s Your Theatre, Inc., the multi-talented Eric Paradis directs Neil Simon’s "The Gingerbread Lady", a lesser-known, lesser-produced script.
"I immediately was drawn in by the writer’s bite, wit, sadness, despair and love," says Paradis. "One of the reasons I chose this play is because of how frank our protagonist (Evy) is . . . though coarse at times, (she) has a way of making light of and finding humor in her struggles," he says. "This show also deals with addiction, another timely feature of this 50-year-old work."
Paradis’ direction is beautifully and understandably actor centered. "All during rehearsals, I’ve sat down with each actor to see how they’re doing with everything --- lines, blocking, costumes, . . ."
Being in the director’s chair instead of being in a blocked position onstage, is a change of pace for Paradis. It’s not uncomfortable or awkward.
Carol Oliva, as Evy Meara --- an admitted and known alcoholic --- leads this exceptionally sensitive and theatre savvy cast of characters; who accept, agonize over, or remove and reattach themselves to their longtime friend.
Oliva’s personalization and understanding of the characters she plays has a consistent common denominator: traits and beliefs. Despite the fact that Evy is a self-absorbed drunk who willingly seduces (literally and figuratively) people and social situations to her advantage, there is a recognizable moment of normality, which she grabs onto or abandons.
Addiction does, indeed, come in many forms. While any variety of addictions may or may not produce physical harm, the disease itself goes even deeper. If you’ve slugged down too many shots, you’ve got your drunkenness, nausea, disorientation and a thundering headache to greet you the next morning.
If you’ve suffered a shot to your ego, self-esteem, or a personal concept of who you truly are, your sense of make-believe can be even more poisonously dangerous than the liquor an alcoholic needs to put him/her away. How do you undo a thought? How do you not think as you’ve thought before?
Caroline Paradis can do or be virtually anything or anyone on stage. It is a miraculous and precious transformation to behold. In this show, she is Toby Laudau, Evy’s best and loyal friend. Toby can bolster Evy (but not her drinking), as long as Evy bolsters Toby’s penchant for artificiality. Toby would not be caught dead without a makeup compact, coiffed hair, designer brand accessories and toe treatments from Japan. Only Caroline can keep us amused and engaged in the banter of nonsense, while maintaining character and body language.
Speaking of mind/body coordination, as it applies to specific characters, get ready for a very real treat in the form of Ryan Durkay, as Jimmy, Evy’s best (male) friend. We get the impression the Jimmy has been around for a long time, mopping up after Evy; paying her bills or accounts when she can’t, and just loving and supporting her even in the most unforgiving moments.
Durkay is a natural at timing, comic delivery, establishing a moment for ensemble coming together, while maintaining character. He is immediately likeable, dependable and the beacon we follow because he flies high above the playing standard.
Lauren Costa plays Polly, Evy’s daughter. This is a most challenging role. Polly can hate her mother; love her mother . . . or a little bit of both. And so she does. Imagine dealing with an addictive personality (who also happens to be a parent) on an adult level? How has that parent’s lifestyle affected a child?
We like and accept Polly . . . and the actress who plays her. However, Costa, in some scenes, seems to prematurely anticipate the next line (hers or a castmate’s), or inches into a place or piece of blocking cautiously) before it actually happens. Knowing lines and places is definitely a plus. Advice to Costa would be that we know you know what you’re doing. Just relax.
J. R. Strangis as Evy’s lover, Lou Tanner, rejoins the theatre world after many years. His appearance is absolutely natural, as is his delivery and demeanor, when he unexpectedly visits Evy on the eve of her return home after rehab. What ensues is a raw recap of where they’d been and who they were to each other before. Old wounds, accusations, personality and communication flaws and feeble references to recreating a future relationship, dramatically ensue.
Strangis (as Lou Tanner) could be anyone we know; someone on the other end of a relationship with a dynamic, passionate connection,that has seen its wars and celebrations. Physically, emotionally and artistically, Strangis gets it. We hope to see more of him on Your Theatre’s stage.
Michael Cabral, as food delivery boy, Manuel, is perfectly non-plussed, as his "job" requires. He’s wonderful in his first scene with Durkay, insistent that his delivery bill be paid. He’s deliciously low-keyed and steady in his delivery.
Set design is a spectacular ‘70’s issue, by Eric Paradis and Mark P. Fuller; intimate lighting design by Larry Houbre; sound design by William C. Smith; period costumes by Mark P. Fuller with hair styles by Suzanne J. Houbre.