BWW Review: BLUEPRINT FOR PARADISE: Needs Less Hate and More Empathy
BLUEPRINT FOR PARADISE/written by Laurel M. Wetzork/directed by Laura Steinroeder/Hudson Theatre/thru September 4, 2016
In the program notes, playwright Laurel M. Wetzork states one of her primary reasons for writing BLUEPRINT FOR PARADISE as, "It's important that we don't make the same mistakes we've made in the past." As well-intentioned of Ms. Wetzork to fictionalize the 1941 construction of a Nazi compound in the Pacific Palisades, her well-meaning 'message' does not come soon enough in the almost two-and-a-half-hour show. Unless you are a Hitler sympathizer or Nazi history buff, the first two hours full of hate (until Wetzork's message is apparent) can be hard to sit through. Possibly if the main character was more sympathetic or likeable, you might feel more empathy in her plight. Director Laura Steinroeder keeps Wetzork's overly wordy exposition moving at a fast clip.
Kudos to all the actors for their full commitment to their somewhat thankless roles. As written and directed, the first impression of the main character Mrs. Clara Taylor has her condescending to her lowly "inscrutable" Asian maid Fenny. Probably in the 1940's (as this play is set in) her attitude to her help was quite acceptable. But in 2016, Clara's attitude towards her help does not endear herself to any compassionate viewers. (Spoiler alert! Clara does have a change of heart and attitude near the end.) Meredith Thomas imbues Clara with a whirlwind of hyper energy, fidgeting stage business and manic nervousness.
David Jahn effortlessly portrays her husband Mr. Herbert Taylor as an ambitious charmer and manipulator. However, his choice of silly deniability at being 'caught' seems an interesting acting/directing choice.
As the "we don't yet know they're the bad guys" Nazis, Steve Marvel and Peter McGlynn preen and hold court as the very creepy, visiting moneymen Ludwig Gottschalk and Wolfgang Schreiber in town for the beginning of the compound construction.
Smarter than the normal 1940s housewife, Clara recommends an architect for the job of designing the "camp." (Why Mr. Taylor, who consistently puts Clara in her place -at home, would even consider any business suggestions from his wife - seems completely implausible.) Clara, mentioning landmark building designs she likes, discovers one designer did them all - Paul Revere Williams. Impressed by the landmark buildings named, Mr. Taylor instructs Clara to arrange an initial interview between herself and Paul. (Again, implausible.) Not until Paul arrives at the Taylor mansion, does Clara actually see that Paul is "colored." Regi Davis delivers Paul's trying-very-hard-not-to-offend, passionless cadence down pat.
As the only two sympathetic characters in this piece, Ann Hu and Alex Best effectively offer up totally believable performances as Fenny, the subservient maid and Alex, the accommodating driver of the Taylor household.
Climatic scene near the end seems rushed and far-fetched, like a sitcom tying up its season. It did bring a loud guffaw from an audience member (not I).
Compliments to set designer Gary Lee Reed for one of the most elaborate, detailed set seen in a small 99-seater. His depiction of the Taylor's well-appointed 1940's living room receives complementary enhancements from props designer Bonnie Bailey-Reed.