One thing about Andy Bragen’s original comedy: It undeniably has a catchy title. Currently at 59E59 Theater, Don’t You F**king Say a Word is meant to be a high octane comedy about an ongoing, competitive tennis match between two testosterone fueled men and the women who love them. Unfortunately, the title is the most provocative aspect you’ll find in this otherwise dull play.
If this sounds like a familiar plot line, it is. Bragen’s four-person character study is no more recycled pop-psychology from the late eighties/early nineties which was wrapped in a best-selling book by Dr. John Gray called Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.
Set on a tennis court (an economical and smart design by Amy Rubin), the story follows Brian (Bhavesh Patel) and Russ (Michael Braun), two sports enthusiasts who meet after their respective girlfriends, Kate (Jennifer Lim) and Leslie (Jeanine Serralles) bump into one another with their boyfriends on the streets of Manhattan. The ladies went to college together, though they weren’t the closest of friends. After the meeting, Brian and Russ decide to play a weekly game which begins as a friendly exchange and soon turns into a heated competitive rivalry. Simultaneously, it encourages a more meaningful relationship between the ladies.
The females serve both as narrators and participants throughout the play and it does have a few major laughs, but not enough to sustain 90 minutes (which feels endless).
What is does have in its favor is a nimble, talented, and ethnically diverse cast. Kudos to director Lee Sunday Evans and the casting associates for this decision. With better serves, the show could be a winner. As it stands now, there’s not much here to rally about.
Those seeking intended nostalgia are encouraged to grab tickets to another show that is currently treading the boards at 59E59 Theater. Terms of Endearment is the quintessential tear jerker of the eighties. The 1984 sentimental family drama won a slew of Academy awards including Best Picture. Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson took home Oscars and screenwriter James L. Brooks also walked off with a little golden man.
Dan Gordon’s U.S. premiere of the stage adaptation remains faithful to the source material and under Michael Parva’s direction, it provides a moving and pleasant evening of entertainment that should appeal to both newcomers and longtime fans of the film.
Set in Texas from 1960-1983, it follows the story of Aurora Greenway (Molly Ringwald), a steely, buttoned up mother who is having great difficulty cutting the strings from her only daughter, Emma (Hannah Dunne). With pending nuptials, Aurora does everything in her power to dissuade Emma from marrying Thomas “Flap” Horton (Denver Milord). Aurora informs her that the choice “is a mistake of such gigantic proportions that it will ruin your life and make wretched your destiny”. She believes that Flap “is limited with no imagination and atrocious manners.” Emma, young and in love rebuffs the warnings but much like real-life, mother usually knows best.
Meanwhile, a widowed Aurora seeks companionship with her next door neighbor, Garrett (Jeb Brown) a retired astronaut who fancies himself a ladies man in spite of his flagrant philandering and drunken conduct.
MacLaine and Nicholson are so closely linked to the respective roles of Aurora and Garrett and like many iconic roles, it can often be problematic to view new interpretations. Ringwald, best known for her roles in John Hughes’ teen movies pulls it off in a serviceable manner. She lacks the natural austere demeanor of MacLaine and dare I say- she may be miscast. Still, the chemistry she has with Dunne (who steps into a role made famous by Debra Winger) feels sincere.
Brown is excellent as the rakish Lothario and, though his Garret is rough around the edges, he creates a complicated, but endearing soul.
Most of us know the ending, one in which could be interpreted as movie of the week material. Bear in mind, however that the movie was released in 1984 and medical science has greatly improved since then.
Gordon’s treatment is a fond trip down memory lane and whether you’re excited to see one of the original members of the Brat pack on stage, wish to relive the same experience as the movie, or see this touching story for the first time, you’re likely to leave 59E59 Theater’s staging of Texas far happier than you will at their staging of tennis.
Terms of Endearment plays in Theater A now through December 11th. Don’t You F**king say a Word plays in Theater B now through December 4th. Both shows are at 59 E 59th Street Theaters between Park and Madison.
For tickets and more information click here.