On the eve of his 21st birthday Delmore asks “I don’t know how we got here, Ma. How’d this happen? To which she answers “This isn’t what I had in mind. Believe me. I had other plans.”
It’s Brooklyn, New York in 1934 – bang in the middle of the Great Depression. Delmore may be coming of age but his mother, Rose, still fusses over him, slicking his hair into shape and asking whether he has eaten his carrots. She has the air of a woman defeated or perhaps let down. She is self-deprecating, feeling stupid and inferior. If only the decent brisket promised by the butcher had been less fatty, if only she had a cake.
The apartment is a mend-and-make-do precarious miscellany of wooden clothes horses and cases. It seems that her once fastidious repairs have neglected a tear in her sweater though and this unravelling reflects her own thoughts. If only …
As Delmore sleeps his dreams are haunted by the figure of man tipping the furniture, causing Rose to restore the delicate balance. He comes into focus as Harry, a thrusting young real estate agent who is calling on the young love-struck young Rose. Business is nice, very nice and in the shadow of the Bridge, the Stars and Stripes and Lady Liberty he is living the American dream.
It’s a lovely day for a trip to Coney Island with its fairground rides, end of the pier photographer and restaurants. Harry is full of promises – Rose can have anything she wants and he will always take care of her. They try to glimpse into their exceptional future. But there is a change in the weather, the souvenir photograph just won’t develop the way they want and the waiter thinks that it’s not too late to change their minds.
The play, written by Pulitzer Prize winning Donald Margulies, is based on a semi-autobiographical modernist short story by “forgotten genius” Delmore Schwartz. Schwartz wrote about the Jewish immigrant experience in New York and the long reach of one generation’s actions on the next.
This is beguiling production, with strong performances and full of fairground romance and magic. The movement of just the few props conjures up the pier and gallopers while harry indulges in a fine clothes-peg cigar. With a clear understanding of the script it elegantly but indirectly tells us all we need to know.
At around 40 minutes it is shorter than billed and it might be that some excised material could be reinstated. It would also be interesting to see what the company could do with the original film within a play format.
Schwartz said that the ideas of success and failure 'are the two most important things in America' and this production is a success.
Show Times: 14 – 29 (not 22) August 2016 at 11.50am.
Tickets: £5 to £9.