BACK STAGE WEST
February 26, 1998
YES IS FOR A VERY YOUNG MAN
at Theatre Exchange
Reviewed by Rob Kendt
The big question with a Gertrude Stein play is how her naggingly repetitive language can live onstage. The big surprise, in this nearly flawless and scintillating new production of her most accessible play, is that the language fairly breathes and pulses with wit, conviction, and feeling. In the hands of the capable actors of the Interact Theatre Co., under Lamont Johnson's strong, sensitive direction, the effect of Stein's elliptically orbiting dialogue on this relatively straightforward tale of a small French town during the Nazi occupation is not distancing or pretentious but rather layered, enriching, and occasionally hypnotic.
It is simple on the surface: five scenes and four main characters, seen over four years, from the French-German armistice of 1940 to the invasion of Normandie in 1944. And on Bradley Kaye's deft, painterly set--which, like the production, seems to capture a peculiarly French combination of bucolic and cosmopolitan, the artful and the everyday--the action of each scene is indeed laid out simply. But Stein's dramaturgy is remarkably deft, with occasional swathes of exposition leavened by her teasing way with words; we meet the American artist, Constance (Stacy Ray), who tries to stay above the fray but is not entirely unsusceptible to the persistent attentions of Ferdinand (David Drew Gallagher), a young man otherwise torn to the point of impotence over his country's occupation. And we meet Denise (Megan Zakar), a pragmatic country bourgeois whose alliances seem to go further to the right with each scene, while those of her explosively sardonic husband, Henri (Josh Adell), become more or less openly pro-Resistance.
If these sound like placards as written, they take on marvellously human contours in these actors' hands, from Zakar's forceful, alert readings to Adell's passionate exasperation, from Ray's eloquent ladylike steel to Gallagher's--oops, here's the rub. In the production's only misstep, Johnson has wildly miscast the role he played in the piece's 1946 premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse. Gallagher looks about as French as Opie Taylor, and his even, naturalistic acting, with a voice as flat as Kansas, stands out like a square peg from the production's more rounded theatrical vision. This is not quite the liability it could be, since Ferdinand is a strangely intermittent leading man, but it unfortunately deflates many of his scenes with Ray.
Contributing nicely to the overall vision are Eve Brenner and Mary Carver as a pair of nattering maids, James Harper as a laconic, spookily kind Nazi, and James Gleason as a nervily loyal Resistance fighter. Vicki Sanchez's costumes are deliciously and broadly in period, and Cheryl Waters' lighting well complements Kaye's dusky set.
"Yes Is for a Very Young Man," presented by the Interact Theatre Company at Theatre Exchange, 11855 Hart St., N. Hollywood. Feb. 21-indef. (818) 789-8499.