Rocket To The Moon By Ed Kaufman
Bottom line: Clifford Odets’ 1938 play is still thought-provoking and compelling. (Pacific Resident Theatre, Venice, Calif., Through Aug. 29)
American playwright Clifford Odets’ 1938 romance “Rocket to the Moon” is rich and rewarding — and wonderfully performed at the Pacific Resident Theatre.
Odets is best known for his socially based, openly proletariat plays such as “Awake and Sing,” “Golden Boy” and the overtly agitprop “Waiting for Lefty.” With “Rocket to the Moon,” which is rarely performed, Odets turns to psychology instead of an economic deliverance. It’s a new sort of Odets: quiet, deliberate and searching.
All is set in the dingy waiting room (the authentic set design of Stephanie Kerley Schwartz) of gentle, affable Dr. Ben Stark (the convincing Michael Bryan French), a struggling dentist during the latter days of the Depression. As the play begins, we see the good doctor with his uptight, domineering wife, Belle (the able Melissa Weber Bales).
As they talk, we are told almost everything about them. They are childless and almost loveless, and Belle is estranged from her flamboyant, wealthy father, Mr. Prince (Richard Fancy is outstanding). All their lives are stuck in an emotional malaise, and that includes Ben’s tenant Dr. Cooper (Vince Melocchi), who sells his blood to pay his rent; his neighbor Frenchy (Choppy Guillotte), a foot doctor; and Willy Wax (Scott Conte), a theatrical promoter. All are first-rate.
And into their lives comes Cleo Singer (Dana Dewes is lovely, convincing and quite wonderful). She is Ben’s new secretary and assistant. She’s also 19, a romantic dreamer, outspoken, unafraid, a bit silly and the “new woman” catalyst/message for “Rocket to the Moon” as she touches the emotionally frozen lives of those around her.
As usual, Odets’ unique language is a blend of nongrammatical New York street jargon and lyrical poetry. It’s fresh, vital, humorous — and always human.
Credit Elina de Santos for the savvy direction and Audrey Eisner for the authentic period costumes.
Rocket to the Moon
Presented by Pacific Resident Theatre and West Coast Jewish Theatre
Credits: Playwright: Clifford Odets
Director: Elina de Santos
Set designer: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz
Lighting designer: Leigh Allen
Costume designer: Audrey Eisner
Ben Stark,: Michael Bryan French; Belle Stark: Melissa Weber Bales; Cleo Singer: Dana Dewes; Phil Cooper: Vince Melocchi; Mr. Prince: Richard Fancy; Frenchy: Choppy Guillotte; Willy Wax: Scott Conte