BWW Reviews: Donald Freed's TOMORROW Artful Promise of Better Times
Tomorrow/by Donald Freed/directed by Damian Cruden/Skylight Theatre/through April 21
Donald Freed's new play Tomorrow at the Skylight Theatre was written expressly for Salome Jens, and Miss Jens is one of the chief reasons to see it. More about her later! Not that the play itself is not worth the price of admission, for, indeed, it is a peculiarly artful and quite theatrically exciting piece with a politically artistic air. The message "Wake Up, America!" is hurled at us even before the curtain goes up. We listen to voice-over tapes of news broadcasts from the year 2000 proclaiming the re-election of George W. Busch as President of the United States in spite of the gross negligence/ miscount in the state of Florida. We are reminded of just how ineffective the administration - republican or democratic - has been over the past decade in keeping funding for the arts alive, deficit or no deficit. Our country's endeavors spell dismal failure, so when the curtain goes up and Jamie Booth (Geoffrey Forward) seems withdrawn and indifferent toward the world around him, the phrase American amnesia rings loud and clear. Freed desperately wants some individual action and over the next two hours this supremely stellar cast does its very best to point us more positively toward Tomorrow.
In brief, this is a play about a renowned family of classical actors and what has happened to them over the years. Abigail Booth (Jens) , grande dame of the clan has recently turned 100, and is sharing a cottage in West Hollywood - that also serves as her studio - with her great nephew Jamie (Forward), when Laura Keating (Jenn Robbins), an up and coming young actress and former student of Abby, comes to her with a proposition. She is about to embark on playing the most difficult role of a lifetime, that of Lady Macbeth, first on stage and then on film for a major studio. She is willing to pay Booth an exorbitant sum to coach her for the role. Of course, great artiste that she is, Booth sees through it all and refuses at first, and then realizing Keating's potential - and the fact that she made Jamie smile, a first in years - accepts on a very limited basis, and as a gift, not for profit. Both she and her nephew had hoped in the long line of Booths - akin to the Barrymores, Lunts and Fontannes - to have an American National Theatre at this stage of the game, but nothing has, or in their minds ever will come to pass in that department - again, consider American politics and its indifference to the arts, and voila, enough said... Booth's first assessment of what Keating is about to undertake - that she is wasting her time with no hope of having a theatre to call her own - does gradually change throughout the rehearsal period, which constitutes the major portion of the play. Jamie gives Laura vocal lessons and Abby coaches her through the arduous scenes of Lady Macbeth. To witness how each interprets the verse and how they give it new light makes for a chilling scene or two, particularly where Jens as Abby and Robbins as Laura co-create a Lady Macbeth, who possesses so much more than the power-hungry woman interpretation we've been used to; we see a woman who deeply loved her husband. Quite a thrilling vision, especially when realized that it has taken Abby an entire lifetime to understand!
Let's get back to Salome Jens. Ahhhh.... This lady is the greatest living American stage actress. She delivers such fierce intensity and passion for her art - full of sound and fury - that one can understand how her wisdom, her legend give her entitlement to own the play. Jens is Booth...Booth is Jens: a great teacher, a great actress, a true life force. Jens gives a palpable performance that is rich and unforgettable. Jamie is at first appearance so sad and downtrodden but by play's end has come full circle. In the end he is relieved, free to go his own way, and happy for the chance to have been changed by his encounter with Laura. Forward has a difficult role and he makes Jamie totally real, ultimately truthful. His is a lovely, masterful performance, as is Robbins', who as an actress really shows versatility in taking direction, as she lives, breathes and grows - to quote Freed "climbs the mountain" to achieve the most impossible of roles in Lady Macbeth. Actors will love this piece for its theatrical creativity and pure love for the art of acting as it is meant to be. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz' set is simple but evocative with the barren trees outside the studio window so perfect as the woods for Macbeth. Skilled director Damian Cruden allows his actors great freedom of movement and expression throughout.
As an homage to the theatre and to its artists who give and give and give some more, Tomorrow is a little treasure with a sparkling cast. The play's the thing, and Jens, a consummate jewel of a player. Go, go, go!