BWW Reviews: Greenway Court Rings THE BELLS OF WEST 87TH
The Bells of West 87th/by Elin Hampton/directed by Richard Pierce/Greenway Court Theatre/through October 13
Sitcom, from TV to stage, is primarily the first impression of Elin Hampton's The Bells of West 87th, now onstage at the Greenway Court Theatre through October 13. Hampton comes from TV and most writers of that genre can easily get 'trapped' - like Molly in the play - into the oh so familiar situations, and the fast/clean/neat comedic setups that we are used to seeing on the tube. There's one exception here, one big one, in fact: Hampton's characters as played by a vibrant cast are far more eccentric than usual and grab us deliciously from the start.
Molly (CameRon Meyer), a nice New York Jewish girl, lives with her mother Ida (Carol Locatell) and manages their apartment building in the city. Both mom and job present unpleasant issues for Molly. Her dad Eli (Robert Towers), an over.the.hill illusionist is separated from her mom, but lives in the apartment right next door. He is unaware that Ida is living with Molly, and Molly has rigged a set of tiny bells on all of his doors so that her mother will hear when he is entering and exiting and thus avoid running into him. Ida makes jewelry and is overbearing, like all Jewish mothers, as she interferes in Molly's every move. When Molly takes a poetry class at night school and meets eccentric orphan Chris Germain (James Marsters), she finally has a boyfriend. As caring as he is, though, he is every inch an innocent - think of Rose Nyland in The Golden Girls -so, may be totally wrong for her. His day job? He is merely a contented manager of miniature golf at an establishment known as Alphabet City. Ah well, so much for potential; nonetheless, he wants to meet her family, and so she arranges a dinner, at her father's apartment - it is Eli's suggestion - where the entire dysfunctional family will get to know Chris. Molly's sister Maxine (Dagney Kerr) is more the socialite, living on Staten Island, married to a successful businessman, even if she is unhappy, with two children. Maxine was always Ida's favorite, one more dig into Molly's self-esteem. The first act is the setup of all the characters and the second the dinner where all chaos breaks loose as the five intermingle and rip each other to shreds, except for the outsider Chris, who serves as polite referee.
There's nothing especially fresh in the script, but all the characters are a delight to watch and listen to, and the actors that play them are more than up to its quick, funny demands under Richard Pierce's capable hands as director. Although not a new technique, I did also enjoy Molly's little poetic critiques delivered as asides to the audience. Praise to CameRon Meyer, who stepped in to replace Juliet Landau at the eleventh hour due to a film commitment. Meyer makes a sturdy Molly, baffled and miserable, who is bent on making some novel changes in her life. Locatell and Towers are both devilishly funny. She carries the typical Jewish mother to extremes; he has a field day playing the wild and nutty wanna.be magician. Kerr is just great in her tearful, selfish scenes as spoiled Maxine. Marsters is a joy at every turn as Chris. Reminding one a bit of Albert Finney with his curly mop and Brit accent, he makes an otherwise nerdy middle-aged man a truly sweet, caring/loving individual, and most of all, genuinely likable. Jeff McLaughlin's detailed set design of two mirror image apartments is spot.on.
As the flyer says, "Normal is what people call families that aren't theirs". The grass is always greener. At play's end, Molly luckily finds her peace; one can only hope that she eventually returns and settles in with Chris, who adores her. Hopefully, you will fall in love with these characters, as I did.