Ferenc Molnár ‘s 1909 Hungarian play Lilliom has appeared in many incarnations on stage (The English translation reached Broadway in 1921), film, radio, and as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. Its best known treatment Americanized and softened the wrenching story. For those of you curious about its roots, Fritz Lang’s gritty 1934 film is thought to be truest to initial vision. A very young Charles Boyer plays the carousel barker. Each version made adjustments.
Like a silent film made from the play, Michael Weller sets his story in 1932 Coney Island rather than Budapest. “People are starving across the land…but always, there are moments of grace,” we’re told by top-hatted Narrator Dr. Ruhl (Jerzy Gwiazdowski – lacks focus and charisma) Innocents Julie (Hannah Sloat), and her friend, Mary (Ginna M. Doyle – abrasive overacting until her last scene), are respectively kitchen help and maid at a Catholic Women’s Inn – which dictates curfew. The well known story:
Hannah Sloat and Vasile Flutur
One night at the carousel, barker Jericho (Vasile Flutur) flirts with Julie just a bit more than the other girls. His boss (and lover) Mrs. Mosca (Stephanie Pope) erupts with jealousy banning the girl from her ride. Jericho doesn’t like to be told what to do. Argument ensues. He either quits or gets fired. Julie’s calm, plucky, self possession makes the roustabout think she’s experienced, especially when she shoos Mary away and agrees to stay with him, aware she’ll also lose her job. He’s completely thrown to discover she’s a good girl. Despite huge, obvious differences, they’re soulmates.
The two move in with Jericho’s Aunt, Mrs. Hendricks (Erinn Holmes – one note here; better as a judge in Heaven’s court) and her son Fritz (Jamal James – solid, low key performance) who have a photography studio. His relatives are protective of Julie while Jericho is tolerated.
Hannah Sloat and Vasile Flutur
Jericho ostensibly looks for work finding little or none. Frustration and loss of self-respect keep him in perpetual temper. Though he loves her, Jericho often strikes Julie. She unconditionally excuses his behavior, going so far as to say she never felt it afterwards. (Abuse issues anyone?) Mrs. Mosca tries to lure her prize attraction back, almost succeeding before Julie reveals she’s pregnant.
Egged on by his reprobate friend, Tink (Jack Sochet who hasn’t fully fleshed out his role), Jericho ambivalently commits a crime in order to secure money for his incipient family…and dies. At Heaven’s Court, he’s offered a day to return to earth and make amends. The last scene depicts this bumbling attempt to convey love to Julie and his daughter Lisa (a very good Noelle Franco).
Stephanie Pope and Vasile Flutur
The play is uneven. Its biggest misstep is the device of Dr. Ruhl who’s irritating and distracting (ever present) throughout. Everything he communicates could be better taken care of by dialogue. While Fritz has a lovely, poetic yet credible speech about intuition gleaned through the lens and the piece’s last scene is poignant, Heaven’s Court takes on a broad, almost satirical tone that doesn’t fit the rest of the play.
As Jericho, Vasile Flutur seems neither arrogant nor tortured enough to fill historically sizable shoes. Only at the site of the robbery do we feel turmoil in what’s essentially physical manifestation.
Two outstanding actors shine:
Hannah Sloat inhabits just the right quiet resolve. It’s less important that we understand Julie’s choice than that we believe the character – and we do. ( In Weller’s program message to us, he states part of his attraction to the piece is the mystery of human behavior.) One could cast this artist in O’Neill or Odets and her unfussy truth would come through. She’s all of a piece, superbly grounded.
Also grounded, Stephanie Pope portrays Mrs. Mosca as if having given her much thought. Raw temper feels as visceral as practiced seduction. Pride and determination are ever present. Nor does Pope minimize the character’s deep attachment to Jericho. She’s thinking and feeling even when inactive.
Director Laura Braza seems to have taken a loose hand. Good actors are swell, the poor ones ungoverned. Pacing is fine, stage movement effective if not creative.
Bevin McNally’s Costumes dress Julie appropriately, Mary scandalously, and Jericho in apparel he couldn’t afford and wouldn’t wear on the job.
Act I Set is more practical than imaginative, though a pop-up paper Coney Island is charming. Act II is both well realized and dramatically employed. Also credited with properties, Julia Noulin-Merat unfortunately provides a star that looks like silly putty dregs.
Coney Island sounds by Matthew Fischer are spot-on though need to come on with more of a snap when the Dr. magically points.
Joseph Shildkraut in the title role in the Theatre Guild production of Liliom (1921); Poster for Fritz Lang’s 1934 film (Historical Photos courtesy of Wikipedia)
Production Photos by Dustin Moore
Opening: Jack Sochet, Vasile Flutur, Jerzy Gwiazowski
The Attic Theater Company presents
Jericho by Michael Weller
From the play Lilliom by Ferenc Molnár
Directed by Laura Braza
The Wild Project 195 East 3rd Street
Through February 10, 2018
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