Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Mrs. Whitney": ☼ ☼ ☼ baub

After seeing "Goldfish," the first of two John Kolvenbach shows playing in repertory at the Magic, we looked excitedly forward to the sort-of sequel "Mrs. Whitney," which expands the story of one of the Goldfish characters. Played in the second show, as in the first, by Patricia Hodges, "Mrs. Whitney" is a far more traditional piece than "Goldfish," and, sadly, seems to have lost excitement and innovation somewhere along the way.

As good as he was playing Leo in "Goldfish," Rod Gnapp is perhaps even better as Tom Whitney, the love interest of not only Mrs. Whitney, who was his first wife, but four other wives as well. Tom's son Fin is played by Patrick Alarpone (Billy Bibbitt in SF Playhouse's recent "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), in a touching performance with a lot of heart. Arwen Anderson is perfectly insane as Luisa, while Charles Dean's Francis mirrors Margaret Whitney's loss of hope. The difference is that, unlike Margaret, Francis can't think of anything to do about it as he finds himself unable to deflect her romantic illusions.

This is "Mrs. Whitney"'s World Premiere, so it is not surprising that it still feels unsettled, particularly in Act Two. The reason perhaps is direction. Whereas Magic Theater Artistic Director Loretta Greco directed "Goldfish" and filled it with innovative and quirky light and set changes, author John Kolvenbach is directing "Mrs. Whitney," and he is in love with the soliloquy. Every time anything important happens on stage, Mrs. Whitney then faces the audience and pontificates about what we all just saw. The action grinds to a halt. If you wanted to make sure you were distracting the audience from the characters, you couldn't think of a better way to do it.

Margaret Whitney's first lines, with a torch song setting the mood in the background, are: "My name is Margaret Whitney and I'm a romantic." Point taken. But for the show to work, you've got to give her credit for a little more than that. We need to be cheering for the reuniting of Maggie and Tom Whitney. Right now he's a loser and she's...well, she loves torch songs.


RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Mrs. Whitney" Three Stars with a bauble of despair. Those flow-destroying world-weary pronouncements about love might work if Lauren Bacall were spouting them from the top of a piano with Edward G. Robinson in the bathtub smoking a cigar. They don't work here.

Special mention must be given to Tom's description of diet soda: "It's worse than nothing. It's fake nothing."

"Mrs. Whitney" isn't fake, but it doesn't seem real yet either. Give it a little time, though. The pieces are there.

"Mrs. Whitney"
Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through Nov. 22


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