(Seen above: Damian Young (l) and Erin Dilly (r) in a photo by Christy Wright.)
In the Mood had its world premiere on the Fitzpatrick Main Stage of the Berkshire Theatre Festival and it is a funny, winning evening of frothy comedy and farce. It also propels Kathleen Clark out of the “emerging playwright” ghetto where she has been consigned for the past twenty-five years. In terms of wit and sophistication her work can be included in the league of romantic comedy writers such as Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde, blended with the genius for the ill-timed entrances that are the trademark of a Feydeau farce. All with a droll and thoroughly American parodistic flair. You don’t have to slam doors to be drop dead funny.
While In the Mood is a major change of focus for the playwright who earlier wrote Secrets of a Soccer Mom, thereby helping launch a national catchphrase, it is still firmly about real people, families and relationships. Clark has an ear for, well, normal life, and the big hearts that often go with it. Her plays celebrate regular people facing and solving the ordinary problems that life throws at them.
Another of her popular early plays is Southern Comforts about a mismatched elderly couple in search of a meaningful relationship. Kathleen Clark is a mom, a mother, and a role model for normalcy. Her plays are written with love, understanding and warmth, reflecting her outlook on life. She is no kid playwright purging their frustrations with life. She deals with them.Unlike her earlier, more suburban characters, her location is now the city, presumably New York and the play takes place in an elegant apartment/condo/coop which looked so good on stage that many in the audience were heard to comment how they would love to move into it. Scenic designer Lee Savage could make a very nice living just doing home design if push came to shove. The snazzy living room with its gleaming grand piano centerpiece was perfection itself. The deep black of that instrument was echoed elsewhere, in a perfect suite of black, white and greys. Best of all, the set took into account the difficult columns that are part of the Fitzgerald Stage’s heritage and often difficult to work around for set designers. Savage simply made them part of the decor.
As In the Mood unfolds, it reveals complex relationships with one surprise within another, like Russian nesting dolls.The premise is simple: the gorgeous Manhattan socialite Perri Rubin (Erin Dilly) is preparing for a surprise birthday party for her husband, Derek (Damian Young). She is in the midst of last minute preparations and fussing, worrying why the caterer is late and what happened to the piano player. Dilly conveys both the care and the distraction of an overwhelmed hostess with perfection.
Enter Nick Elliot (Stephen R. Buntrock), an old boyfriend, who is out of breath from climbing umpteen flights of stairs because the elevator is not working. She is surprised to see him, and even more surprised that he is there to play the music. He does indeed tickle the ivories once in a while but In the Mood is a romantic comedy, not a musical.
One of the best tricks that playwright Clark uses in her play is that everytime one of her surprise guests or relationships starts to become sticky and serious, she pops another character or situation into the story in order to lighten the moment. In the Mood never devolves into serious drama. It is an amusing tale of human foibles with lots of fun thrown in, and what, in this day and age, could be considered a happy ending.Marc Bruni, the director, kept the pacing tight, the movement lively and the focus rock solid. From the audience it appeared that playwright, actors and direction were a well oiled machine with no false notes.
The casting of In the Mood is nothing short of brilliant, each person perfect for their role. You will love how Stephen Butrock as Nick acts as the conductor of the piece, waving a wand of clever words whenever the going gets sticky. Damian Young as the husband Derek is appropriately played as a clueless clod, and the young lady he unexpectedly arrives with (Jennifer Cody as Carolyn Shore) a befuddled and hilarious pawn in the proceedings.
As Edward Horton, the actor-playing-a-contractor, Arnie Burton is simply drop dead, deadpan funny. His timing, as with everyone on stage, was masterful.
Even the Berkshires do not provide complete refuge from the problems of the world, and if there was ever a time America needed a play like this, well, it is now. What happens during the course of the play is unlikely to leave you thinking about deep issues. In fact if you are like me, you may find that this delightful new comedy from the Berkshire Theatre Group will produce a subtle lift to the spirits.
Sometimes theatre is serious, and sometimes it is an escape. In the Mood safely releases the built up pressure of life and reminds us that people are, underneath it all, just imperfect human beings like ourselves.
So if the latest news is leaving you cranky and a bit out of sorts, just buy two tickets and call me in the morning.
Berkshire Theatre Group presents In the Mood by Kathleen Clark, directed by Marc Bruni, Lee Savage (sets), Laurie Churba Kohn (costumes), David Lander (lights), Scott Kilian (sound). Cast: Stephen R. Buntrock (Nick Eliot), Arnie Burton (Edward Horton), Jennifer Cody (Carolyn Shore), Johanna Day (Sally Elliot), Erin Dilly (Perri Rubin), Damian Young (Derek Rubin). August 2-13, 2011. At the Fitzpatrick Main Stage of the Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA.