Students bring early American tragedy to life

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Story by ROB CURRY, Assistant News Editor—
UCM’s Department of Theatre and Dance found a casting challenge in playwright Elmer Rice’s “Street Scene,” a play featuring 44 characters.
The sprawling cast included young kids recruited from outside of the department, and they fit into the scenes without missing a beat.
Dade Sprague in particular was very convincing as the youngest sibling of the Maurrant family, Willie.
His character was rambunctious and carefree, shielded from the turmoil between his father and mother, played with spot on Irish accents by Chris Scott and Kaelyn Whitt.
Not all of the accents, which included possibly Swedish, German, Italian and Russian, were so consistent or as easy to understand, but my ears eventually adjusted.
This does not apply so much to Hannah Williams’ lovable performance as the German immigrant Greta Fiorentino, or her Italian husband played by Bobby Covington.
Character interaction was fairly fluid, but sometimes I felt actors waited stiffly for their next line instead of reacting to what another character was saying.
This caused some minor awkward pauses, not as much in dialogue as in motion.
I was a little nonplussed with the racial stereotypes in the story, but who am I to argue with a Pullitzer Prize?
Besides, I was not around to see what American culture was really like back then. Maybe the stereotypes were justified.
On the other hand, the hunched hobbling of some of the older characters and passers-by were appropriately over-the-top and hilarious.
The story, set around an apartment front stoop in New York City circa the early 20th century, focuses on the struggles of working-class Americans and immigrant families.
The set was very realistic and looked sturdy, with actors leaning and sitting on the “stone” arms of the stoop.
What happened inside the three-stories of the apartment was mostly implied, but actors would pop their heads out of windows to chat with characters downstage.
However, the small talk, shared ice cream and neighborliness between the literally sweat-soaked cast, accomplished with a spray bottle back stage, slowly gave way to bickering and tragedy.
Anna Maurant is having an affair with the collector from the milk company, Steve Sankey, played by Dain O’Connor, and everyone but her husband knows.
Even her daughter, Rose, played by Brooke Myers, knows and understands her mother’s marital frustration.
Her husband Frank, played by Chris Scott, is a surly, possibly abusive man who never seems very pleased with anyone.
Enter the despicable gossip Emma Jones, played with gusto and a nasal Brooklyn accent by Sheri Ann McCartney.
Few scenes pass without her sneering and anti-semitism, the brunt of these comments obviously directed at the studious Kaplan family played by Bob Wearing as the father, Meg Alshire as the sister and David LeVota as the brother.
Wearing was a joy on stage, doling out unappreciated and unsolicited wisdom about economic independence.
When she isn’t badmouthing Jews, Emma can never resist the temptation to rile everyone up about Anna’s affair when she’s out of earshot.
Emma is a classic, holier-than-thou hypocrite the audience could love to hate.
However, don’t think most of the tenants didn’t love dishing on the adultery with Emma.
Things take a dramatic term when Frank goes on a business trip to Stanford, and Anna invites Steve up to her apartment while her kids are away.
Suddenly, Frank returns, having changed his mind about the trip, and a wave of panic ripples through the tenants as they scramble to warn Anna.
They fail, and Frank murders Steve and his wife with a pistol, then escapes.
Rose is left to deal with the shambles of her family.
Her father is eventually caught and sentenced to the electric chair, getting one last chance to apologize to Rose.
The neighbors try to help Rose in small ways, even Emma, but not without a jab that she had seen a married man, played by Joseph Reece, calling on Rose. “She’ll end up just like her mother.”
Rose packs up and leaves, breaking the heart of her love struck neighbor Sam Kaplan.
She leaves Sam with the murky promise that they could meet again and fall in love, but nothing seems certain as the curtain closes.