Michael Elias' one act Catskill Sonata is a weekend in the life of famous writer Dave Vaughn (Kip Gilman) at his usual summer spot Rosen's Mountainview Hotel. Rosen's is a sweet gig for Vaughn because the owner sponsors artists, painters, musicians and writer for free in exchange for using their names as a tourist attraction for the hotel.
This particular summer of 1957, the hotel is struggling. Attendance is down, the meat portions at dinner have shrunk considerable and the alcohol is monitored closely. This year, Dave Vaughn has sweet-talked his way into being the "artist in residence" for the entire summer. Anne (Lisa Robins) is the hardworking, constantly cleaning widow that owns the hotel. She is hesitant at first, but her impulse for goodwill towards artists and the need to attract more customers sways her into considering it, so long as her partner Ernie is OK with it as well.
Irwin Shukosky (Daryl Sabara) is the hotel's houseboy, charged with all the cleaning, fetching and general schlepping needed at the hotel. However, Irwin harbors aspirations of becoming a writer, so his ulterior motive is to get Vaughn to read and critique his story. The problem is whenever he starts to strike up a half way decent conversation with the writer, his boss Ernie (John Ciccolini) shoes him away to get back to work.
Ernie likes having Vaughn around because he knows he has an undisclosed location to fool around in with his lady friends, namely Vaughn's hotel room. Leo Schwartz (Zack Norman) is the gentleman caller who will do almost anything to win the affections of Anne. He calls on Vaughn to speak favorable of him to her in hopes that she will accept his marriage proposal. Vaughn does agree to do it.
Also in attendance at the fine Rosen Mountainview Hotel is Rae Isaacs (Lisa Chess), a concert pianist who simply can't find enough quite to rehearse. She is interested in using Vaughn's celebrity for political reasons. Of course using him for sex isn't bad either, if they just had a place to go (remember Ernie…). Young violist Nancy Siegal rounds out the artist we meet at the hotel. She whines about Rae hogging all the practice time and taunts Irwin with her virginal purity and large hooters.
It only takes Irwin witnessing Vaughn's seductive pass at young Nancy and one joint for the entire weekend to go to hell in a hand basket, for everyone. Unfortunately, everyone feels as though Vaughn is directly or indirectly to blame.
As an audience member, I don't necessarily think that the fiasco that ensues is all Dave Vaughn's fault. All the characters of this play give him so much credit, for his worldliness, for his artistic vision, for his influence over other people. Can the poor writer really be responsible for abilities assumed upon him?
Elias' script makes the manipulation of these characters far too easy for Dave Vaughn. I found myself impatient with their gullibility. I was frustrated with the character of Vaughn because he didn't seem to really want anything. I wanted to identify with him because it is revealed that he is actually grieving, but he was too filled with self-pity for me to really give him any more. I just didn't see the charisma that all the other characters saw in his guy.
I was not sure of the purpose of the handyman character Butch (Jeff Corbett). Maybe to remind us that country folk lead simple lives. Maybe to show that even in 1957, times are changing. We already know that. Although the angular thrust stage at The Matrix presents certain challenges, I felt like there were some missed opportunities in the staging for the finely functional set by Desma Murphy.
Anne is the character I cared about in this play. She is struggling to keep a business going while still holding on to the ideals upon which it was founded – a quiet family getaway and sanctuary for artists. I could watch that actress all day.
Of course, watching a middle-aged man teach Joseph Stalin (Elya Baskin) the Cha-Cha is not something you see everyday either.
The Matrix Theatre
Opens Saturday, July 7, 2007, runs thru Sunday, September 2.
Regular showtimes: Friday & Saturday at 8pm, Sunday. at 3pm.
ADMISSION: $30. Sunday matinee, $25.
ONLINE TICKETING: www. brownpapertickets.com
Photo Credits: Eric Curtis