"an impressive set ...out of an Edward Hopper painting"
"(A) beautifully acted production"
A chamber drama can work extremely well in a small community theater, and that's certainly the case with Paul Bogas' Partners. The chamber in question here is an old-fashioned hat shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1970s, where two brothers conflict over whether or not to sell their late father's property. As in so many family quarrels, their dispute revives old hurts that have never healed. For theater-goers, though, the chamber of note is the Fells Point Corner Theatre. A visit is definitely in order because it is offering a final entry in this summer's Baltimore Playwrights Festival that is also one of its best.
Partners is as firmly grounded dramatically as its realistic set by John Kaluta, which features a timeworn shop whose large plate glass windows look out onto a street that could be out of an Edward Hopper painting. In a modest way, it's an impressive set. This really helps in terms of establishing a definite time and place for a drama in which such things are important. The store is like a vestige from an era when men actually wore hats. Fashions have changed and, for that matter, the neighborhood is changing for the worse. In a generational sense, two middle-aged men wonder whether their late father's store can remain viable under such conditions.
Harry (Richard Peck) is the dutiful son who has remained here running the store. He doesn't have much money and seems like he hasn't traveled more than a few blocks from the neighborhood where he grew up. When he decides to do something decisive and sell the store, it prompts a visit from his brother, Sammy (Jerry Gietka), who is a wealthy businessman with an upscale Manhattan address to call home. Sammy is fiercely opposed to selling the hat shop and pitches various proposals for expanding into hat manufacturing. Their argument soon makes clear that Sammy's eagerness to float ideas and write checks may not be matched by a personal willingness to go into the hat business himself. Harry, who has been toiling in the shop his entire life, resents having Sammy meddle in his decision to sell the shop. However, Sammy has given shop life-extending loans to Harry for many years, and so their financial relationship is as complicated as their emotional one.
Further complicating the equation is that the hat dealer to whom Harry intends to sell the shop, Lenny Lane (Lenne Sirasky), turns out to be the son of an old business foe of their father's. Lenny states his reasons for wanting this shop, though the script is not entirely convincing in this matter. After all, hats don't exactly seem like the wave of the future. In any event, as these three Jewish men discuss family and business ties going back decades, the play movingly conjures up a sense of the ethnic fabric of such neighborhoods. The script's essential arguing points between the two brothers verge on becoming redundant as they endlessly recall ancient feuds. But the playwright has the smarts to make this a one-act play with a tight 65-minute running time. Bogas writes sharp dialogue, and has a sure handle on the financial and legal wrinkles of the proposed hat shop deal; in this regard, it's worth mentioning that the playwright is a U.S. administrative law judge. Although the play's character dynamics place it derivatively close to Arthur Miller's The Price, Bogas is basically able to claim this hat shop turf as his own. Himself a native of New York City, he has a secure understanding of its urban composition and opinionated residents.
The Fells Point Corner Theatre production directed by Sharon Weaver conveys the raw emotions of brothers whose differences are as pronounced as their similarities. This beautifully acted production really gets at those tensions, even though Jerry Gietka's New York accent occasionally heads south to Baltimore. But even when the accent wavers, the show's emotional honesty never does. Partners runs through Sept. 5 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, at 251 S. Ann St. in Fells Point. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12. Call 410-276-7837 or go online to www.fpct.org.
Click here to buy The Perfect Stage Crew.