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Center Stage: ‘Toys in the Attic’ plot focuses on recognition and money

By Staff | Oct 22, 2015

Theatre Conspiracy launched its 2015/2016 Season celebrating female playwrights with Lillian Hellman’s brilliant 1960’s Broadway smash hit “Toys in the Attic;” and what an propitious opening production it turned out to be.

Hellman’s “Toys in the Attic” was the last major play penned by Hellman, which considering the cannon of Hellman’s major plays “The Children’s Hour,” “The Little Foxes,” “Watch On the Rhine” and “Another Part of the Forest” all of which, including “Toys in the Attic” became not only smash hits on Broadway, but blockbuster movies, earning many Academy Awards. This alone says it all when it comes to spending an amazing evening of live theater at the Theatre Conspiracy.

The plot focuses on the two driving forces for many human beings, recognition and money. Both can be as elusive as catching the wind and are for this play’s pivotal character Julian Berniers, well played by Jason Drew. In the original 1960’s Broadway production another Jason played Julian Berniers Jason Robards, in the 1963 movie version Dean Martin recreated this role. These are some mighty big shoes to fill and I am happy to report that Jason Drew did just that, nicely.

According to the plot, Julian’s financial success has eluded him completely, for all of his 30 something years, when a financial crises occurs, Julian simply relies on his two adoring sisters Carrie and Anna to bail him out; they can and will, always be, his financial guarantee at every down turn. Money and recognition rule, but not in Julian’s life, and it this lack that drives this play to its volatile ending.

In the role of Julian’s younger sister Carrie Berniers we have one of our favorite local actresses Rachel Burtram. Burtram plays Carrie brilliantly, as well as sensitively. This Carrie is an over intense, over the hill steel magnolia, not afraid to be as annoying and unlovable, as the playwright wrote her to be. What well-chosen acting selections by Burtram.

Another remarkable, powerful actress, deserving of high praise is Karen Goldberg giving her all in an equally stunning performance, with her heart breakingly, beautiful interpretation of Anna Berniers the older spinster, sister.

Wende Gilmore makes a striking debut in her role of the wealthy, Albertine Prine (mother to Lilly, Julian’s emotionally, unstable, young wife). Gilmore is truly outstanding in this role; she is a marvel of dryly expressed wisdom and lady like understated, tightly reined in emotion.

Another fine, young actress making a promising Theatre Conspiracy debut was Ashley Kellman in the role of Lilly Prine Berniers, the slightly irrational, overwhelmingly needy young woman and wife of Jason Berniers.

Cicero McCarter, shines in the role of Henry Simpson (Mrs. Prine’s African American chauffer and sometimes lover) McCarter plays this role with such panache that it belies the fact that this fine actor, is as he states in his program bio. ” a relative new comer to the performing arts”.

The rest of the cast: Gus- Elvis Mortley, Cab Driver- Ken Johnson and Mover- Thomas Marsh. All contribute so much to not only their roles, but to making this one of those great evenings of enjoying fine Community Theater with one of the best, our own Theatre Conspiracy.

I would be totally remiss if I did not acknowledge Director Stephanie Davis. I have always known that Davis is a spell binding actress, one of great strength and versatility, but I had no clue that the “Downtown Diva” is also a force to be reckoned with as a first class Director. Ohmygod Stephanie, you just blew me away completely! WOW!

Sorry to say that this review will probably appear after the curtain falls on its final performance Oct 18, but be that as it may, it was a stupendous evening of great performances and one heck of a good play; and that deserves praise.

Now whatever you do, do not miss the next major event at Theatre Conspiracy

Save the date Oct. 30, when Theatre Conspiracy’s Annual New Play Contest Fundraiser takes stage.The evening begins at 7 p.m. with a reception in the art gallery of the Alliance of the Arts, with food, wine, dessert and drink. Then at 8 p.m. they will have readings from the top three entries to their Annual New Play Contest. After the last play is read the audience (you) vote on your selection for winner of the contest; and that show will be produced in May of 2016.

Tickets are $50 and that includes a voucher, good for one ticket to any Theatre Conspiracy show!

And it that wasn’t enough: this season women under 41 years of age get $11 tickets to any performance. How can you beat that? Start the ball rolling by making your reservations at the box office by phoning (239) 936-3239. Remember when you phone tell ’em Marsha sent you!