Some defibrillation required

The Country Girl

By Clifford Odets
Directed by Andy Cook
The Aegean Theatre Company
The Mint Theatre Space
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Dudley Stone

Frank Elgin, an alcoholic, has-been actor, is given the opportunity to make a comeback by Bernie Dodd, a dynamic young director who recognizes his extraordinary improvisational talents. Frank lies to Bernie about his tough-as-nails wife, Georgie, blaming her for his misfortunes. During the run of the play, Frank goes on a bender in his dressing room, is about to be fired, but is forced to confront his weaknesses. He goes back on stage and ``knocks 'em dead.'' Bernie, who fancies her, realizes the character and strength of the country-girl wife and Frank finally appreciates the wonderful woman who has always stood by him.

The play, now about 50 years old, shows its age, and many of the lines sound composed. Without the power of and not as well-known as the dramatist's Golden Boy and Awake and Sing, it nonetheless is more than a Group Theatre museum piece and ran for seven months on Broadway. Over the years it has starred such actors as Jason Robards, Rip Torn, George Grizzard, Jennifer Jones and Shelley Winters. In the film, the lovely and very genteel Grace Kelly was a Philadelphia Main Line country girl, and Bing Crosby was effective in his understated, casual way as Frank Elgin. The play, though, spends far too much time on the question of ``will he or won't he'' overcome his addiction. Points are made and then repeated ad nauseam. Not surprisingly, this post-Depression play is, well, depressing and is almost totally lacking in humor.

The good news was that the actors did an estimable job of telling this story, and the director moved the action along well throughout. He obtained good performances from his three principals and satisfactory ones from the supporting cast. One questionable touch was to have a ukulele player in the audience who then joined the action and appeared prior to some scenes as a sort of ``Tiny Tim'' chorus. After a while the musician (Ed Cohen) became a distraction and even irritating. Perhaps the director felt he would brighten up this somber play, so lacking in any laughs. Mr. Cohen did play quite well.

Mike Danner gave a strong performance as Frank, portraying well the tightly wound up bundle of insecurity. Helene Gresser was also convincing as the wife; she suggested what life with Frank must have been like. And Bradley Goodwill did good work as Bernie, the director who recognized Frank's acting power and took a gamble that he could stay off the sauce and give the performance of his life. In the smaller roles, Chris Ockler (Larry), Rosemary Hopkins (Phyllis), Matt Beckham (Paul), Heather Muir (Nancy) and Ashley Butler (Marcella) rounded out the cast well.

Lighting (Paul Ziemer) and sound (Ashley Butler) were satisfactory. The appropriately shabby hotel room/dressing room set was uncredited as were the passable costumes.

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 1
Acting 2
Set 1
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1997 Dudley Stone

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