nytheatre.com review by Gyda Arber
September 9, 2005
I must admit my first foray to see a Keen Company production has left me very impressed. Beautiful sets and costumes, an exceptional cast, a highly professional production—all for only $19. This is off-off-Broadway at it’s finest, a far cry from the low-budget, unevenly-cast shows that we sometimes see for that price. The shock of the production values alone makes The Breadwinner a great treat, though the show itself has much to recommend it.
Somerset Maugham’s rarely-produced comedy tells the story of a 1930s British family whose patriarch has decided to leave his post as a stockbroker, as well as his family, with only limited financial assistance, because, well, he’s bored of them. Watching each family member (and the members of the neighboring family as well) selfishly deal with the shocking news makes for great comedy, and Maugham’s script is certainly amusing. But it is Carl Forsman’s snappy direction and the comedic talents of the entire cast (no weak link here!) that make the comedy work so well.
The show is unexpectedly relevant to 21st century society. Though most families these days do not solely rely on the husband’s income to provide, the materialistic teenagers here (excellently portrayed by Joe Delafield, Virginia Kull, Margaret Laney, and David Standish), whine about having their own apartments, an allowance for living expenses, a new car, and a new tennis court. Though none of the actors ever breaks his or her period behavior, it’s easy to see them as modern teenagers complaining about just the same things. Much of the play’s charm comes from this startling juxtaposition, somehow simultaneously both quaint and timely.
Nathan Heverin’s set and Theresa Squire’s costumes expertly evoke the time period, effortlessly creating a world of pampered luxury. Though it’s difficult to single out performances among such a talented cast, Jack Gilpin as Charles (the Breadwinner of the title) easily conveys the frustration and humor being saddled with this crazy family. And Jennifer Van Dyck takes a star turn as the crazed neighbor, convinced that all this behavior has everything to do with her.
Keen Company certainly knows what they’re doing, and I have every expectation of their continued success. But what a shame it would be to lose this great company to the bigger theatres (and bigger ticket prices) of off-Broadway. I hope Keen Company continues to do what they’re doing—providing a great theatrical experience for a bargain price. They’re a sparkling diamond in the off-off-Broadway rough.