Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: No Place Like the Hamptons

The Hamptons have a reputation. It’s where the elite reside. Well, at least part of the time. The Hamptons usually house the “second home.” Of course not all Hamptonites are the same. There are some less superficial people in the sea of hoity-toity, but they’re not meant for the theatrics. In 210 Amlent Avenue, a fading Broadway star turned Hamptons socialite has a well-timed party where a guest includes a young man from her past who holds a life-shattering secret in his hands.
With a book by Becky Goldberg and music and lyrics by Karl Hinze, 210 Amlent Avenue is inspired by the storytelling of the classics where drama is no stranger. Close your eyes and you’ll think you’re listening to the sweeping score of Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza. Open them back up again, you’ll find everyone sitting around the table eager to play a game of “Full Disclosure” from The Addams Family. While the music may be pretty, it’s the story that pulls 210 down. Rather than reading like a high-stakes drama, 210 Amlent Avenue plays like a trashy soup where everyone’s secret comes out in the most over-the-top fashion all because these elitists can do whatever they want. The trajectory of the piece stays very flat, matching the sound of the score. Sure, there are heightened moments where Mrs. Jordan, the host of the dinner party, discovers that the secret she had squashed for oh so long is mere moments from resurfacing. And the way it resurfaces is through a bland device that is more laughable than dramatic. What Goldberg does well though is she is very self-aware with the material, throwing in jokes and jabs to alleviate the monotony. She also creates a great character that, placed in a different medium, could be extraordinary. Mrs. Jordan is a deep character. She's been lost in secrets and self-hating and uses the deaths to finally move on to the life she misses. It’s dark. It’s rich. You love to hate her but can’t wait to see she does next. Until she does it. And you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. I suppose her mother never warned her about the dangers of playing with fire. Story aside, the music that Hinze provides has some beautiful moments. But they all seem to live in the same tone that none stick out. His artistry plays a grand part at times in numbers like “Nowhere Like”.
photo by Michael Kushner
With a story filled with some despicable and unlikeable characters, performances suffered. The best of the bunch was Steven Hauck as Murphy, Mrs. Jordan’s neighbor. Hauck is wonderful as the tension-cutting comic relief. But that’s about all he’s there for. Robin Skye plays right into the role of Mrs. Jordan. She knows how to sell her well, discovering the pain inside. But as likeable as Skye is, her character is anything but. Jen Brissman as Leslie is darling. Her strong showing does prove the need to beef up her character. There is an understated performance by Zal Owen. He lacks the power of the leading man, something Judah required.
Director Samantha Saltzman took this piece and played it like the pieces it was inspired by. And sadly, it caused monotonous pacing issues. The set by Christopher and Justin Swader featured large scenic pieces that limited Saltzman’s staging ability. With little room to play, Saltzman’s characters are stuck in space with no architecture to aid. Discoll Otto’s beautiful lighting utilized the colors of the Hamptons’ beaches on the scrim but did not help on the stage defining space. As nitpicky as it can be, one of the most unfortunate decisions Saltzman made, though it could easily be in favor for a smooth upcoming transition, was having Leslie bus the post-lunch table and pour the unfinished lemonade back into the pitcher. It gave her an action during her dialogue with Judah but it was slightly unsophisticated and something the character would not do.
210 Amlent Avenue suffers from the style it tried to evoke. We have an affection for the Ibsens and Chekovs but that doesn’t necessarily mean they work in musical form. Musicals automatically become heightened due to theatricality and with the plot so over-the-top, 210 Amlent Avenue didn’t really offer anything new.