Theatre Information

Vienna Theatre Company Proposals

By • Jan 30th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Vienna Theatre Company: (Info) (Web)
Vienna Community Center, Vienna, VA
Through February 10th
2:15 with one intermission
$13/$11 Seniors and Students
Reviewed January 26th, 2013

When New York Times critic Ben Brantley reviewed Neil Simon’s Proposals upon its Broadway opening in 1997, he wrote, “Mr. Simon has been blessed with an unusual facility for zippy dialogue and innately involving neatly shaped stories, but a rich sense of character has always come easily to him…With Proposals, unfortunately, there’s little sense that the people on the stage are more than conduits for the jokes and the plot.”

Having seen Vienna Theatre Company’s new production of Neil Simon’s 30th play, I may have been wont to agree (I should be arguing with The New York Times?). But, upon reflection, there is more going on than would seem; Simon, in his own butterfingered way, was Larry Davidizing himself and nobody noticed.

Feel free to start gagging or retching as I describe Proposals as a heartwarming and poignant reconciliation between the sexes and the generations as anger dissipates and people make nice before they croak. Bert Hines (née Hinestein or Hinowitz lol) (Eric Storck), is convalescing after a heart attack at his bungalow in the Poconos in his last summer in 1957. He is looked after by his long time Mammy…oops, pardon me, housekeeper, Clemma (Lisa Hill-Corley). Bert pines for the wife (Allison Shelby) who left him three years earlier and is remarried. Clemma is acerbically carrying a torch for the husband (Sidney Davis) who walked out on her seven years earlier. The irony here is that Bert has been assimilated while the woman who runs his life takes refuge in the safety of the Hines home from a world that will not yet let her assimilate. Bert’s daughter, Josie (Madden), is pining for her last summer’s love (Michael Schwartz), who is now involved with a gentile tootsie (Sarah Hayes), as she (Josie) breaks off her engagement from the smartest Jew in Harvard Law School (Kevin Comer). There we go again…it’s always H-bomb time. However, in a show of Ivy ecumenism, last summer’s love went to Brown. Meanwhile, Josie’s Florida flirtation (Eric Sampson), a cross between Tony Soprano and Cosmo Kramer wants to come see her. This whole megilla ends up at the bungalow for lunch on a nice day in 1957 and no one is what each one initially seems to be.

Yes, Bert seems like a sweet and darling man but Annie left him for a reason. Annie is initially seen as a hard and bitter woman who abandoned her family for a younger man, but she was lonesome and tired of being a summer widow as Bert spent his life building up a chain of stores and never being home for his family. Clemma is a tart spritz of cranberry juice keeping everyone honest while she had let the wayward husband who left her believe a lie by omission and that rascal who left her is aging badly and regrets his old wicked ways. This older generation is basking in memories of a life that is gone with GI Bill. The younger generation has broken through the barriers that impeded Bert and Annie and Clemma and they are not better people for it.

Hill-Corley and Storck fell into the gentle rhythm of decades long companions and their respective performances overcame and mitigated the limitations of the younger and less experienced actors. Whereas Hill-Corley and Storck were able to realistically portray the natural give and take of people, the younger generation seemed to be waiting for cues before they spoke. Eric Sampson’s charming buffoonery and malaprops steal the show as the playwright intended, but Sampson gives Vinnie enough depth so that our sympathies are with him as he cluelessly responds to his peers’ in his face denigration. Unfortunately, the commentary on smugness and self-importance is lost in the larger narrative and no one, Director or actors, could have had a clue about the larger issue without proper dramaturgy.

The set (Leta Fitzhugh) was beautifully created and reflected that summer escape from city grime and pavement. It worked to enhance Maloney’s blocking and secured our understanding of who everyone is and how they get here. Pat Tinder’s costume design was also pretty authentic, but her presentation of a mesomorphic Annie is unforgivable. Shelby is not an unattractive woman and Tinder made her look like a frizzy linebacker in junk jewelry. Why was no one miked? This was an audience of loud and flatulent coughers and sneezers and throat honkers and every rude eruption overwhelmed the presentation from the stage and the audience missed a lot of dialogue. I will only mention the obnoxious e-cigarettes as a concession to the theatre being in a city building where there is no smoking ever, even for artistic and authentic presentations.

Ultimately, what Proposals is illustrating is the deracinnation of Tevye’s representative descendants and their elevation to the mid twentieth century meritocratic elite and its continuing deleterious effect on everyone. Simon and David have made themselves filthy rich evincing the parochial and inside bickering between the generations of a sectarian minority who have turned cultural and ethnic exhibitionism into a national pastime. What I don’t understand is why everyone gets so into this.

I don’t want to damn this production with faint praise because it deserves more than that; but the show is well-played and I had a good enough time. Proposals is a better evening out than the shoot ‘em up at the local Cineplex at a better ticket price.

Photo Gallery

Allison Shelby (Annie Robbins), Eric Storck (Burt Hines), Kevin Comer (Ken) Lisa Hill-Corley (Clemma Higgins) Eric Sampson (Vinnie Bavasi) and Shannon Madden (Josie Hines) Lewis (played by Sidney Davis) surprises Clemma (played by Lisa Hill-Corley) by returning after 7 years' absence
Allison Shelby (Annie Robbins), Eric Storck (Burt Hines), Kevin Comer (Ken) Lisa Hill-Corley (Clemma Higgins) Eric Sampson (Vinnie Bavasi) and Shannon Madden (Josie Hines)
Lewis (played by Sidney Davis) surprises Clemma (played by Lisa Hill-Corley) by returning after 7 years’ absence
Shannon Madden (Josie), Eric Sampson (Vinnie) Sarah Hayes (Samii), Michael Schwartz (Ray) and Kevin Comer (Ken) at an impromptu funeral
Shannon Madden (Josie), Eric Sampson (Vinnie) Sarah Hayes (Samii), Michael Schwartz (Ray) and Kevin Comer (Ken) at an impromptu funeral

Photos by Harold Bonacquist

Disclaimer: Vienna Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. VTC also purchased advertising on the web site, which did not influence this review.

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