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Larry Litt


All Gone West


Kristen French and Joseph Robinson. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

"All Gone West"
By John Attanas
Produced and directed by Jonathan Fluck
Teatro Circulo, 64 East Fourth St., NYC
March 28 to April 18
Reviewed March 28, 2015 by Larry Lit

As I watched Sam, played by virtuoso Joseph Robinson, project and confess his love for Mary played by sexy Kristen French I wondered if this play's message is the necessity of recognizing incompatible relationships before it's too late.

Sam has a powerful, overwhelming ambition to rise above his current job as a bartender. He's an uneducated World War 2 veteran who hasn't taken advantage of the GI Bill. Instead he dreams of opening a very cool jazz club in the hot 1940's midtown Manhattan's Music district.

One fate filled night his life changes forever through an unexpected encounter with Mary. She's out on a date with her older lover Joe. They come into Sam's bar where he's doubling as a waiter. Joe is an estranged but still very much married City College economics professor. Mary works as a secretary in the economics department of City College. She's learned the concepts of academic economics, namely to ask "what’s in it for me?" Professor Joe is convincingly portrayed by Glen Williamson as a pompous, drunken, aging clown waiting for a major tragedy to fall on him from above. And it does when Mary leaves him for Sam.

L-R: Kristen French, Joseph Robinson and Glen Williamson. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Now here's the thing I don't get. Mary is a teetotaler who only drinks Pepsi on the rocks. Sam drinks just about anything alcoholic. However he's not a sadlush like Professor Joe. Even worse Mary doesn't understand or even like contemporary jazz. She's a Perry Como fan. Sam loves and admires the new post war jazz music and its musicians believing with all his heart they should be heard in clubs. Mary is an old fashioned girl who happens to be an atheist still living with her religious mother. Mary gives us the impression she's a Mama's girl.

So what is Sam's attraction to Mary? Playwright John Attanas wants us to believe it's all about great sex. Sam lets a woman into his life with whom he doesn't have anything in common because she’s great in bed.Question: Does sex trump music? Perhaps Sam’s life is a cautionary tale told as a domestic quandary. In any event he marries the wrong woman.

L-R: Joseph Robinson and Kristen French. Photo by Rosalie Baijer.

More examples of Sam and Mary's incompatibility. When one of Sam's jazz musician friends Sonny Green, played exuberantly by Jesse Means, whom Mary doesn't like nor trust overdoses I could feel Mary's inner satisfaction. Does Sam react like a true friend of Sonny? No, he grieves alone. Mary glowers feeling superior.

When Sam's bar is closed down after a shylock, played with smarmy caution by Anthony Bosco, Sam owes money to is murdered I felt Mary's relief that Sam would finally take her away to California to live in the petite bourgeois lifestyle she's always wanted. Sam just gives up his New York dream for Mary's California Dreaming. Why are they still together?

Jesse Means and Joseph Robinson. Photo by Rosalie Baijer.

Playwright John Attanas asks some very important domestic questions in this play. Perhaps this is the American Dream Conflict Exposed.

The Jazz ensemble that accompanies most of the play is so good that for some moments I thought I was in a real jazz club. Band leader and drummer Henry Vaughn, vibraphonist Grady Tesch, Saxophonist Joe Wagner and bassist Jake Strauss are a brilliant addition to creating the play's mid-20th century reality.

With a bare set reminiscent of Beckett, director Jonathan Fluck gives us a slice of life that I recognized. It's not an uncommon story, it's how families are started with compromises borne from defeats and disappointments. It's easy to say "Don't let this happen to you." It's much more difficult to turn away from greatly satisfying physical love. Be wary or be prepared to pay the price.



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