My Sweetheart's the Man in the Moon
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
June 17, 2005
“Hope is what’s left after everything else is lost,” says the lover to his mistress in My Sweetheart’s the Man in the Moon, a new play by Don Nigro now being presented by Hypothetical Theatre Company. In this case, hope vanishes long before—before the second act and certainly before the last words are uttered two hours and fifteen minutes after the story begins. To be fair, there is some good writing in this juicy story, and the actors are visually right for their parts, but Nigro’s repetition drains the story of its glamorous and intriguing aspects, exhausts his characters, and tries the patience of his audience.
The play takes place between 1901 and 1908 and is based on the historic relationship between the colorful and brilliant architect, Stanford White, and Evelyn Nesbit, the beautiful showgirl who becomes his mistress. The eccentric millionaire Harry K. Thaw also pursues Nesbit, but she loves White, who is married and preoccupied with his work. Thaw, unappealing as he is, is attentive and always available. Ultimately, Nesbit marries Thaw, who physically abuses her, and, in one of his jealous rages, shoots White. At the end, Thaw divorces Nesbit, leaving her penniless.
This is a story filled with possibilities. But important events, such as Mrs. Thaw’s opposition to the marriage and Mrs. Nesbit’s responsibility for her daughter’s downfall, are buried among chatter, missing the opportunity for prickly tension. This is a shame, because Annette Hunt, in the best performance of the evening, does a marvelous job portraying the over-protective, domineering Mrs. Thaw, who dismisses her son’s eccentricities with a flick of a wealthy wrist. Catherine Lynn Dowling is less secure as Mrs. Nesbit. Moments are thrown away: the effect that White has on her, her greed, her indifference to her daughter are not as clear as they could be. Kit Paquin is a beauty and physically fits the role of Evelyn Nesbit nicely. She has a memorable moment when, seated on a suspended moon, she sings the title song in a lovely, crystal voice. Paquin takes us on a bumpy ride, but shows little emotion as she meets her obstacles. She shows more fire when her character pleads for attention from White than after she is thrashed with a whip, left vulnerable by her mother, succumbs to drugs, and is discarded without a cent. At the end, the character does not seem to have learned anything from her journey. Mark Pinter’s confident dignity lends credibility to Stanford White. More fervor in the beginning and more passion when he has Nesbit alone would lend meaningful contrast to a somewhat bland White at the end. Tim Altmeyer is very good. He gives Harry K. enough tics to drive a dog mad. This is both funny and tragic, and during the course of the evening his peculiarities need to be managed more effectively by director Amy Feinberg in order to maintain some semblance of sympathy from the audience. Overall, Feinberg has the cast over-indulging in their roles where they should be natural, and holding back where they ought to be fervent.
The performance, of course, is tied to the script and many of the faults could be eliminated with a red pencil. There are too many scenes in too many different places, some of which could be combined or eliminated. Each time tension builds, the script calls for Thaw and White to proclaim Nesbit’s beauty and their love. This not only diminishes the tension, but eliminates the climax. Watching the characters as they discover what we already know can be very effective theater. However, here, White’s murder is simply one more pace among many. Nigro gives us a lot of very good information, often too much. There is a hint of homosexuality just before the shooting, but that piece of information quickly passes and then the biggest surprise is—the play is not over. There is still the trial.
It’s not that the play is confusing. It’s that it is not sharply defined. This also can be said of the plush, red set by Mark Symczak. Red velvet curtains swathe the walls; red brocade chairs serve as a parlor; a large, red circular settee sits in front of a largely unused red-blanketed bed. There is an elevated drawing table upstage for the architect and two round tables downstage. It is visually attractive, but it doesn’t work. It serves too many functions, and I, for one, stopped caring where the characters were suppose to be. Chris Lione’s costumes work. He has Nesbit in a stunning suit that looked like light weight suede. Nesbit puts the jacket on when she leaves a scene and removes it when she arrives—a nice visual hint. Another aid is the use of video. Each scene is introduced with a video tag line projected above the stage. Credit for this goes to Tim Cramer.
Pianist Tom Berger plays James Thornton’s title song and his own compositions off and on throughout. It adds intimacy and overall ambiance.
There are so many good elements in this play. The story is terrific, the visuals appeal, the talent is available. There is very good dialog, too. It is simply obscured by too many words. This is easily fixed, especially by someone like Nigro who has a number of plays to his credit. Slash mercilessly, and save the play.