Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Barbara A. Bell

A Taste of Honey– Splendid Acting


Playwright Shelagh Delaney grew up after World War II weathering the bleak conditions depicted in this, her first play. Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop accepted the poorly typed manuscript in 1958. Its production program commented that Delaney was “…the antithesis of London’s angry young men. (A kitchen sink theater movement dealing with social issues lead by John Osborne.) She knows what she is angry about.” Delaney spoke for her class, generation, women, blacks, and homosexuals.


Rebekah Brockman and Ade Otukoya

Eighteen year-old Jo (Rebekah Brockman) has been traipsing around after her indomitable, young mother Helen (Rachel Botchan) for years, from job to job, man to man, flat to flat. We meet the two mid perpetual argument as they move into yet another cold, dirty, communal-latrine-down-the-hall apartment in Delaney’s home town of Salford-slaughterhouse out the window.

Harry Feiner’s Set Design employs every shade of drab, muddy brown and a dash of washed-out orange. Its backdrop is an evocative, charcoal-like drawing of sooty rooftops. The single street lamp and wrought iron fence at back remind us there’s no escaping environs. It’s a wonder the audience isn’t coughing in sympathy.

Rebekah Brockman and John Evans Reese

Helen is softly voluptuous and aware she’s attractive despite a hard, brassy edge lubricated by liquor. Appearance is paramount. It’s kept them both afloat. Jo is plain, yet takes no care with her looks except to be particularly scrubbed. Still, she refers to herself as beautiful and her sketchbook art as genius. Whether or not a front, the young child/woman lives by it. She’s feisty, sure of her opinions and choices even when unaware of reasoning, yet reads children’s fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

About the same time Jo is basking in the attentions of a soft-spoken, black sailor named Jimmy (Ade Otukoya) – one can’t help wishing Delany told us how they met – Peter (Bradford Cover), the womanizer Helen left, tracks her down, and, like a bull in a china shop, offers marriage, comfort, ostensible security, and a regular bar stool. He has no interest in dealing with Jo.


Rebekah Brockman and John Evans Reese

Jimmy’s leave comes to an end. He unknowingly leaves Jo pregnant, promising to return and marry her. She knows better. Helen gives in to Peter and disappears in a cloud of hope-against-hope proudly wearing her new weasel fur stole. She has no idea her daughter is knocked up. (Popular then, these stoles were made of full animal pelts with each creature’s mouth clamped on one another’s tail. Brava Costume Designer Barbara A. Bell who makes everyone look just right.)

The rest of the play concerns Jo’s survival and immensely moving (not saccharine) relationship with friend turned caregiver, the gay Geoffrey (John Evans Reese.)

Dialogue is effective, characters well drawn. The play gives us an unfussy glimpse of another kind of life. Part of its power lies in isolation, however, a kind of episodic ‘we two form a multitude.’ Though Director Austin Pendleton does a superb job with natural characterization, pacing, and stage visuals, he makes, to my mind, two mistakes that annoyingly interfere with dramatic impact.

Firstly, in this interpretation, Helen and Jo both periodically address the audience, soliciting sympathy, jarring us out of the drama instead of drawing us in. Secondly,  the physical omnipresence of a three man jazz band who literally share the couch with characters, are asked to move when Geoffrey cleans, and look on so close to action that one’s eyes can’t help but drift where they should not, detract.

Music is a constant. People keep bursting into two or four bars of lyric. Helen sings something she once performed at clubs. The trio, it should be noted, is seriously good, the music well chosen. Unfortunately, however, we’ve gone way past period atmosphere into what are they doing in plain sight?! It’s as if Pendleton were insecure about the piece standing on its own.


Rebekah Brockman and Rachel Botchan

Acting is wonderful. Accents are excellent (and intelligible, not a given.) Unique physicality is well crafted. Rebekah Brockman (Jo) reads real whether sullen, having a tantrum, poignantly reaching out, or reflecting on complex possibilities. Rachel Botchan (Helen) offers just the right balance of selfish, irresponsible floozy and overbearing mom.   Both performers portray iconoclastic survival tactics with uncompromising commitment. Arguments are fiery.

All the men are good as well, with John Evans Reese a stand-out as loyal, tender Geoffrey. A role that could have been milquetoast, emerges whole and nuanced in this actor’s purview.

Photos by Russ Rowland
Opening: Rachel Botchan and Rebekah Brockman

The Pearl Theatre Co. presents
A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Musicians: Max Boiko-Trumpet, Phil Faconti-Guitar, Walter Stinson-Bass
The Pearl Theatre
555 West 42 Street
Through October 30, 2016

Widowers’ Houses – An 1800s Moral Quandary That Resonates Still


People who live in glass houses have no right to throw stones. But, on my honor, I never knew that my house was a glass one until you pointed it out.  Dr. Harry Trench (in the play)

Having just finished his medical boards, young Dr. Harry Trench (Jeremy Beck) is traveling abroad with his somewhat older friend, the flamboyant, yet rather proper William De Burgh Cokane, aka Billy (Jonathan Hadley). On the boat to Remagen on the Rhine and again at a hotel, they meet gentleman/businessman Sartorious (Terry Layman) and his pretty daughter Blanche (Talene Monahon). For the benefit of her father, Billy loudly extols Harry’s eligibility as a well born (if not wealthy) husband with great prospects.


Jonathan Hadley and Jeremy Beck

We quickly learn that the couple has already connected and that the café encounter is a set up. Harry is smitten. Blanche is not only willing, but immediately takes a Machiavellian lead. Her father, who knows more than he lets on, is in favor, but stipulates that the suitor’s family must first prove welcoming. Letters are sent and received.


Talene Monahon and Jeremy Beck

Back in London, Harry and his wingman arrive at Sartorious’s home to formalize the liaison. Here, they accidently meet the gentleman’s abused rent collector/building manager Lickcheese (John Plumpis), who, having just been fired for trying to keep his boss’s tenements in necessary repair, pleads his case before the two strangers. Sartorious, it seems, is a slum landlord of the worst, most greedy and unfeeling kind.

Harry is appalled. Unwilling to give up his suit and without telling her what he’s learned, he insists that Blanche and he live on his modest income rather than accepting substantial funds from her father. Accustomed to the best, she refuses, assuming her intended is using the precondition as an excuse to break off their engagement. To say she goes ballistic is putting it mildly. Sartorious’s explanation to Harry (and a more pragmatic Billy) is blatantly class prejudiced, indifferent, and, as Shaw presents it, realistic.


Jonathan Hadley and John Plumpis

When the clever Lickcheese’s fortunes change, he returns to offer a deal to the other three men. Harry discovers he’s unwittingly tied to Sartorious’s real estate empire and must decide whether to join what is a legal but, at root, morally reprehensible scheme, accepting a tainted income. Blanche would come with the package. We learn part of his decision.

The quandary is easily updated to decisions made by contemporary businessmen every day.

This is George Bernard Shaw’s first produced play (1892), but already shows great facility with characterization, language, exploration of the battle of the sexes, and abiding interest in social issues and politics. It’s both entertaining and intriguing.


Jeremy Beck, Talene Monahon, Jonathan Hadley, Terry Layman, John Plumpis, Hanna Creek

The most compelling actors on stage are Jonathan Hadley as William De Burgh Cockane and John Plumpis as Lickcheese. Hadley manages to walk a fine line between over the top and pitch perfect exaggeration, his every phrase and gesture expressing a wholly developed persona. When not actively attempting to draw attention, Billy is nonetheless visibly preparing; when he’s admonished, he elegantly sulks. Plumpis (who looks startlingly like Charles Chaplin), offers first a desperate toady and then a cheeky arriviste, each incarnation with its own set of viable emotions and mannerisms, both completely real. An excellent Cockney accent illuminates.

Talene Monahon (Blanche) works strictly from the surface at all times and is feasible only at the very start of the play. Jeremy Beck’s (Harry) switches from excessive, youthful exuberance to newfound gravitas without visible evolution.

As the Founding Artistic Director of Gingold Theatrical Group, Director David Staller lives and breathes George Bernard Shaw. Much of this production therefore feels authentic. In particular, Billy (William), though florid, appears to be at the same time, of the period, amusing, and irritating and Lickcheese’s change of station is adroitly reflected in his manner.

I have a rather large caveat, however: Blanche is portrayed as so unnecessarily vitriolic/histrionic, it’s impossible to believe Harry would even consider the relationship. Fury can be depicted without hitting, screaming, and flailing. This woman is supposed to be insidiously controlling, not an obvious harridan. Where is her place in the choice around which the play revolves if she’s not for a moment a credible option?

Set Design by Brian Prather is clever, spare and elegant.

Barbara A. Bell’s Costume Design is flattering and evocative, but Blanche’s parading around her home in copious jewelry – including a tiara – is ludicrous.

Photos by Marielle Solan
Opening: Jeremy Beck

TACT and The Gingold Theatrical Group present
Widowers’ Houses by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by David Staller
The Beckett Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Though April 2, 2016