"exquisite set design ...lovingly detailed"
"You can feel the family history that Sammy so desperately wants to preserve"
Audiences will be left with two major questions after watching Fells Point Corner Theatre's premiere of Partners, Paul Bogas' tale of two brothers who find themselves torn between continuing their family's struggling hat business and selling out to a real-estate developer: 1) Will "good son" Harry defy his brother Sammy and sell Waldman Brothers Hats?, and 2) Do I even care? Burdened by a script that's heavy on exposition and virtually devoid of forward momentum, Partners begins as a nostalgic New York City vignette but quickly degenerates into two red-faced blow-hards attacking each other with futile circular logic.
Blow-hard No. 1, Harry Waldman (played by Richard Peck, pictured right, with a notable degree of bumbling, aw-shucks charm), wants to sell the family store following the loss of the prestigious Stetson retail line. Blow-hard No. 2, absentee business partner Sammy Waldman (Jerry Gietka, left), would rather not. They fight. Issues of filial piety, jealousy, and guilt come to light as Sammy accuses his brother of insulting their late father's memory. They fight some more. A coincidental and unintriguing plot twist appears in the form of real-estate broker Lenny Lane (portrayed by a suitably smarmy Lenne Sirasky, who seems stranded with little to do other than open and close his briefcase). More fighting ensues. The brothers almost come to blows.
But the action onstage-often hindered by unnatural, forced-feeling blocking and stage business-is ultimately (and unfortunately) trumped by the play's exquisite set design. Created by John Kaluta's "Perfect Stage Crew" (a team of recent graduates from Montgomery Blair High School), the lovingly detailed, appropriately shabby set is the most believable aspect of the production. From the foil scrunched around Harry's TV antenna to the electrical outlets embedded in the trompe l'oeil woodwork, the physical presence of Waldman Brothers Hats does all it can to complement the play's flimsy premise: You can feel the family history that Sammy so desperately wants to preserve, and the source of Harry's decades-old frustration with the place.
That said, to quote Harry Waldman, "Who the hell cares what happens to Waldman Brothers Hats?" Spoken near the end of Partners' hourlong run time, the line is a rare moment of self-awareness in an otherwise muddled production. The actors often seem to be going through the motions, struggling to find genuine pathos in a predictable, cliché-ridden plot. You'll feel sorry for them. Then, you'll feel sorry for yourself. Or maybe you'll just fall asleep, like the two fellows in the second row.
From the PSC - "Hey, we said we'd run the reviews no matter what. At least the set escaped the reviewers scorn."
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