nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
September 8, 2006
Cherry's Patch, the new play written and produced by Ron Scott Stevens, the Chairman of the New York State Athletic commission, begs the question of the role of a reviewer. Stevens probably doesn't need a review to alert the public to this drama; presumably he has enough contacts to fill the house for its 10-day run. If it's feedback he wants, he would have been wise to go the way of the pros: first a workshop and then a reading or two before a few viewers, giving him the opportunity to trim the fat and to make the difficult decisions that transport a good idea into a well-crafted play worthy of an audience.
The story takes place in a firehouse in Brooklyn where the harmless shenanigans of two pals ignite a vendetta against their captain by an ambitious but lazy firefighter, who deliberately ignores the special code that demands firefighters always look out for one another on the job. This has potential for a searing drama, but Stevens has too much on his mind to allow the men to do their footwork. Instead, he wanders around picking up themes as if they were gold doubloons thrown on a boxing ring floor. First there is the political threat of budget cuts, firehouse closings, and patronage appointments. Next comes the woman recruit and her determination to prove herself. Before she does, she initiates a blatant—actually embarrassing—love affair. Cowardice, ambition, mob justice, and 9/11 all make their appearances. And then, of course, there is the title, the uniform patch that the House Watchman, Elbert Cherry, is designing throughout the play. The code violation would have been enough. Here, the event leading up to it is nearly lost in the clutter, with little hint of the outrage or hurt that motivates the subsequent egregious behavior. Director Richard Caliban allows plenty of time to digest the topics by inserting long pauses. The actors come to life only in Act III, when they finally seem engaged in the conflict at hand.
Most of the characters begin well enough, but too quickly reduce to caricatures. The setup is ripe for this since Stevens gives them obvious names. Harvey Ross gives a wooden debut as the ambitious politico, Commissioner Kevin Wynn. Angelo Angrisani is the vindictive firefighter named Lt. Jerome Dragon (accent on the last syllable). He is all evil, plotting against the men and hitting on Sandra Mansfield, the new female recruit (played by Maren Uecker in her debut performance), who in turn and out of nowhere, hits on the best of the breed—the independent, outspoken Christian Brown played by the attractive Joe Petcka. It is a relief that Jim Moody, as House Watchman Elbert Cherry, spends considerable time on stage. He offers conviction and sobriety to his role, and a touch of professionalism to a somewhat rough production. Drew Latener gives a spirited rendition of an educated but non-practicing attorney. Nabaté Isles blows a mournful interlude on his trumpet between scenes. It is appealing at the start, but because there are so many scenes, it grows predictable and wearisome. Scott Griffith as Capt. John Steele and John Mondin as Firefighter Leonard Moody round out the cast.
Joe Petcka designed an eye-catching firehouse. Ayumu "Poe" Saegusa's lighting is effective.
Cherry's Patch was written as a dedication to a couple of firefighters who inspired Stevens. No doubt they would have appreciated the familiar topics presented in this play. As drama for a wider audience, this play needs additional focus and craft. Making choices is what shapes and clarifies a story. This cannot be done without lots of cutting and rewriting. The intelligent theatre-going public demands it.