And Somewhere Men Are Laughing
nytheatre.com review by Michael Ferrell
August 15, 2007
The year is 1955. The Brooklyn Dodgers are playing the New York Yankees in the World Series for the fifth time in nine years, having lost every previous year. This year, however, belongs to Brooklyn.
And Somewhere Men Are Laughing takes place during Games Six and Seven of this storied year, in and around the Brooklyn living room of a working-class Jewish family. This new play by Jeff Mandels is ambitious, not unlike the Dodgers, and in the end, And Somewhere Men Are Laughing gets the win, though not without a few errors and ground-outs here and there.
Paul is a 17 year-old Brooklyn kid who has been invited to a Dodgers training camp next spring, if he can find the money to attend. His dad, Frank, is an ex-minor leaguer himself who now breaks his back working to feed his family. He and his wife Dot struggle to keep order in a house where Paul is constantly fighting with his younger brother Danny, a sickly, wheelchair-bound Dodgers fan, while Aunt Pearl visits and brings all her baggage with her. The setup is a traditional kitchen-sink family drama and if you happen to like that sort of thing, which I do, then you will be a big fan of this play.
The story is compelling; family members struggle to get along while hardship looms around every corner. The play has seemingly gone through a lot of workshops and rewrites, which probably did the play a huge service since it is such a big undertaking, but also could have caused some scenes to act as unnecessary Band-Aids for the kinds of problems people think up during workshops and rewrites. There are a lot of words and a lot of stories told by the family members. But under Bill Russell's direction, the scenes are crisp and the show never feels long. That could also be due in part to the fact that all the actors understand the rhythm with which these Brooklynites speak.
The acting is good across the board. Jana Robbins as Aunt Pearl is brilliant, always in control of her performance, and playing a three-dimensional lovable character. The two young actors playing the boys, Paul Iacono and Hunter Gallagher, are clearly where they belong, onstage. Carol Lempert and John Fugelsang also turn out solid, rich performances as Mom and Pop, as does Katie Neil as the young teenage girl-next-door.
The direction of the actors seems a bit herky-jerky at times, as does the writing, with a lot of intermittent high-drama moments that make the climactic ones not as powerful. After all, the home runs are more exciting when hit in the bottom of the ninth. The story is good; the simple task of the production would be, just tell it. At times the actors look out toward the fourth wall while hitting a critical moment in speech, which in a realistic drama can look stagey and presentational. The same goes for filling the stage with unnecessary business when characters don't happen to be talking at the time. But those are minor criticisms of an excellent play.
I also have to point out that the fight choreography, by Mike Yahn, is top-notch and the attention to detail on the minimal set is impressive.
If you love New York, baseball, theatre, or all three like I do, do yourself a favor and go see this play.