A couple weeks ago on Whedonopolis.com, we let you know about a staged reading of “The Bells of West 87th”, starring Juliet Landau and directed by Richard Pierce. The Road Theatre featured this performance as part of the 2012 Summer Playwrights Festival, a fundraising event hosted by Taylor Gilbert and Sam Anderson (Holland Manners on Angel and Bernard on LOST), co-artistic directors.
For the uninitiated, a staged reading has the actors reading from their scripts rather than having them memorized, utilizing minimal props. The performance felt a little less formal that way, but was no less engaging as a result. Juliet’s character, amateur poet Molly Fein, is a woman who carries a lot on her shoulders, and comes across as strong despite her delicate frame. She lives with an overbearing, oftentimes irrational mother Ida (Annie Abbott), next door to her father Eli (Arnold Weiss) who dreams of one day being as famous a magician as David Copperfield. Her parents have been separated for 10 years and Ida Fein has set up an intricate system of bells around her husband’s apartment so that she can track his movements and support her avoidant behavior. Molly dreams of a life outside their New York City apartment that she manages while at the same time reluctantly maintaining her mother’s attempt to avoid running into her father in the hallway.
Life begins to change when Molly enrolls in a nighttime poetry class and meets Chris (Chet Grissom), slightly awkward and overly supportive. Often living in the shadow of her more successful sister (Kiren Van Den Blink), Molly must face up to some of her family demons when she invites Chris to dinner. What follows is a heartfelt comedy of errors, in which the family members are forced to examine how and why they have ended up neglecting each other in one way or another. By the end of the show the audience is left rooting for Molly as she finds her own way in the world.
Juliet’s facial expressions were especially entertaining, ranging from shock to disgust to exasperation. She has always had a talent for regional and foreign accents, and her New York accent in this show made her very believable as the daughter of Jewish immigrant parents.
Sam Anderson was gracious enough to provide an introduction before the performance, and conduct a Q&A session afterward. The audience was treated to a talk-back with writer Elin Hampton (whose husband is David Fury) along with the entire cast. Thanks to this open dialogue, people shared with the talent how they were able to relate to the feelings and circumstances surrounding the characters.
The evening ended with a reception behind the theatre. As Marsia said when she posted the blurb about this play, living in Los Angeles gives us the chance to actually mingle with Whedon-related talent. We are in the very unique position of being able to thank them for the work they do and the entertainment they bring us. Having the chance to mingle with the cast, director and writer is an invaluable experience.
“The Bells of 87th” is a dramedy in the same great tradition as the works of Neil Simon. It would certainly be a pleasure to see it go beyond the staged reading phase and become a play with a full run.