Theater review: Slow starter at Curtain Call rewards in classic Simon style

Sarah Koblenz, left, and Amy Kerr in "Rose and Walsh." (Curtain Call Theatre)

Sarah Koblenz, left, and Amy Kerr in "Rose and Walsh." (Curtain Call Theatre)

LATHAM — Neil Simon’s last play (from 2003), “Rose and Walsh,” is an unusual piece — part ghost story, part grief study, part comedy, part meditation on creativity, and maybe a couple of other indefinable parts.

Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? No. But if you are patient with the script and the production, many of the parts satisfy, especially as the evening goes along.

Act I finds us at the handsome Long Island beach home of Pulitzer Prize-winning, 60-something author Rose Steiner (Amy Kerr). She has two companions: 34-year-old Arlene (Sara Koblenz), a friend and helper; and Walsh McLaren (David Orr), the conjured ghost of her lover.

McLaren, dead from an aneurysm five years previously, haunts Rose’s mind by providing solace, challenging, reminiscing and giving financial guidance. In fact, he points her to a manuscript he left unfinished at his death and suggests that she complete it and make much-needed money, given his excellent reputation as an author.

Enter Clancy (Clayton Rardon), a young writer of a single well-received book, now artistically stalled, whom Rose would like to write McLaren’s last 40 pages.

Ah, now when there are four people to care about, that’s my kind of play! And, in fact, the end of Act I is an amusing liftoff into a more meaningful — and enjoyable — Act II, with a quartet of destinies to be revealed.

Played before a nearly full house (all masked, Deo gratias), Thursday’s opening-night performance started slowly. Part of that pace was simply due to exposition — we are just getting acquainted with Rose and Walsh, learning the backstory and assessing the present situation. But part of that pace was due to the production: I wanted speed. The script’s weak humor is best breezed over. My hunch is that as the run continues, the conversation will move more quickly and naturally than it did, though it’s clear Orr and Kerr know their characters.

On a beautifully detailed set by Cianna Stovall, with effective lighting by William E. Fritz and costumes by Beth Ruman, the four actors each deliver special moments. Clayton Rardon is delightful as Clancy, a cheeky and intelligent man somewhat adrift. Rardon’s takes during a scene when Rose is speaking to an unseen Walsh are priceless (Remember Macbeth and Banquo? Remember the TV show “Topper”?), and his performance throughout is fluid and credible.

Koblenz scores especially in two Act II monologues: Arlene’s still waters run deep. One of the play’s major themes is about reconciling oneself to loss, and Koblenz movingly takes the measure of Arlene’s emotional journey.

Orr’s Walsh is a believable mix of someone we all know in this life and someone charged by the afterlife. Walsh’s blustering reactions to Gavin’s comments are those of an impatient father to an insouciant son, but in the last scene with Rose, Walsh’s tender and all-knowing care for Rose is manifest in Orr’s nuanced performance.

It is in this last scene, too, that Kerr does her best work, at one point capturing the poignance of, say, Emily’s last words in “Our Town.” Kerr’s voice is a fine instrument, and her line readings frequently convey the attitude of a literary doyenne. And when Rose’s physical and psychological weariness undercuts her imperiousness, Kerr reveals that change convincingly.

That Simon should write about writers is no surprise: He often did. That, at 76, he should write about death is no surprise. Humor? His stock-in-trade. Pathos? That, too.

Veteran Curtain Call actress and director Barbara Richards has used her considerable skill and insight to make “Rose and Walsh” an engaging mix of it all.

‘Rose and Walsh’

WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 1 Jeanne Jugan Lane, Latham
WHEN: Through Aug. 7
MORE INFO: 518-877-7529;

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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