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What We Wanted – Is Not Always What We Get

Julian (Steven Hauk) is the English Department head of, and popular professor at, a small Ohio College. He’s long, lean and grey haired. Agnes (Elizabeth Rich), something of an earth mother, is the long-distance, assistant editor at a prestigious literary magazine based in New York. Both are ostensibly whip smart. (We only see signs of Agnes’ intellect.) Sally (Amy Bodnar), about 20 years younger, teaches second grade and takes dance. (In fact, dancing in the living room is a deep seated part of all their lives.) A blonde penumbra tops the lithe body of this latter day flower child. The three have been discreetly “married” about 14 years. During the first quarter hour, you won’t have a clue to relationships.

Sally has been a single mother since daughter Reggie (Kerry Warren) was six. The young, free thinking, academically brainy Reg is more or less comfortable with her family. She lives in a college dorm. Her current boyfriend, Dale (Brandon Espinoza), is cliché white trash. He was chosen, much to the surprise of the triumvirate, for sexual prowess and lack of pretension.

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Amy Bodnar, Elizabeth Rich, Kerry Warren, Steven Hauck

Not an uninteresting set up. When Julian potentially drags the family into the same scandal that forced their move to the Midwest, Agnes gets a job offer in New York, and Sally alienates Reggie, things come to a head. All four must make decisions.

I’m afraid David Harms initial effort has “first play” written all over it like subway graffiti. It cries out for editing. Scenes drag on. There are at least three successive endings. (The last one leaves a clever gender question unanswered.) Well placed original poetry ranges from spot-on to obscure. Sally’s behavior towards Dale, made even less credible by stage direction, is too out of character to read true. Her past seems stuffed in like an afterthought rather than revealed within the story. Narration is erratic. This is not to say Mr. Harms can’t write, he can, but…

Director Drew Foster manages to depict desire and affection between the three protagonists according to individual proclivity, but renders Julian too passive to be the man later revealed. Actual dancing, which draws them together even when alternately coupled, is given too short shrift to make an impression. (Good choreography.) Sally sometimes narrates facing us, sometimes away, with foggy theatrical intention. Oh, and how does just the right dance music start and stop on cue with no one going near a player?

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Brandon Espinoza, Kerry Warren

The casting of Steven Hauk, fine in other productions, is a mistake. Not for a minute do we believe his character is a womanizer.  This tips the entire axis of the play.

Elizabeth Rich’s naturalistic performance as Agnes is the best thing on stage, sometimes necessarily acting as ballast. The artist is womanly and subtly sexual with both genders. Intelligence seems organic. We can see her consider before speaking.

Kerry Warren is also quite believable as the strong minded/independent Reggie. It’s not the actress’s fault her playwright has made the character less perceptive than fits, a handicap that makes certain scenes sit less than well.

Set Design by Deb O is immensely creative and visually effective. (Those are manuscript pages you see!) Erik T. Lawson’s Original Music is cacophony. Except for one really ugly, juvenile dress (Sally’s first) Gregory Gale’s Costumes feel appropriate.

 Photos by Jacob J. Goldberg
Opening: Steven Hauck, Elizabeth Rich, Amy Bodnar

What We Wanted by David Harms
Directed by Drew Foster
The Clurman Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
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