It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish in Curtain Call’s “Rose and Walsh”

Neil Simon was an incredibly prolific playwright, screenwriter, and author. Most everyone can come up with the name of at least one or two of his nearly thirty hit shows or movies. The question is, how many can name his, shall we say, less generously received plays. Curtain Call Theatre has opted to close out its 2021-2022 season with one of those lesser appreciated productions: Rose and Walsh.

Clayton Rardon & Sarah Koblenz. (photo courtesy of Curtain Call Theatre)

The play centers around death. Simon approaches it in a not terribly original fashion.  Rose is a broke though very respected writer living in beachfront luxury in East Hampton (an exclusive part of Long Island), who converses with her partner, Walsh, also a distinguished and very successful writer. Walsh exists only in Rose’s head, having died some five years earlier. He offers a way out of her financial insolvency by leading her to his last unfinished manuscript, telling her to complete it, publish it and live well off the royalties.

The problem with the play is Simon apparently was never certain to make this a comedy, drama, or tragedy. He has borrowed from Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit and David Auburn’s Proof, both of whom successfully put a dead character on stage talking. He waffles back and forth with twisted exposition and style that is painfully obvious in the long first act. When the laughs occur, and they do, they are well thought out and an appreciated relief to the drama going on in Rose’s head. The play has been explained as being “quirky”.

Visiting with Rose is Arlene (billed as her assistant), a thirty-four-year-old who according to her, Rose is her best friend. There is more of Arlene to be revealed, but let’s not give away the entire plot. Arlene is aware of Walsh, but obviously can neither hear nor see the robe and pajama-clad late paramour, and reacts only to Rose’s side of the conversations. Walsh suggests to Rose that a young relatively obscure author by the name of Clancy has, he feels, the same writing sensibility and style to finish the last 40 pages of his book. Rose, though a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author, does not have, they both agree, Walsh’s writing style needed to finish up the novel. 

Technically once again Curtain Call has used the best. Cianna Stovall’s set design is so inviting you would like to move right in. Lily Fossner’s lighting, Alex Dietz-Ketz sound design, and Beth Ruman’s costumes all meld together in perfect harmony.

Amy Kerr (photo courtesy of Curtain Call Theatre)

Area actress Amy Kerr returns to the stage with great gusto and aplomb.  Kerr’s Rose is picture-perfect for the part. Her line delivery in Act One was a touch staccato and offered less nuance than one would have liked. By Act Two she appeared to have settled in, found her mettle, taken control of her character, and taken the audience on a well-crafted emotional journey.

Curtain Call vet David Orr returns to the stage, offering another well-honed performance. He wears the part of Walsh like a comfortable pair of slippers that goes well with his designer bathrobe. 

Sarah Koblenz, a performer with deep familial routes in the Capital Region theater scene, is a joy to watch. The relatively bland characterization in the first act blossoms into a full range of emotion in the second that she handles with ease and expertise.

Clayton Rardon as the fourth member of the quartet is right at home from the moment he walks onto the stage. His laconic personality and comic looks as Rose speaks around him, to Walsh, are a refreshing breath of air in the long first act. 

Sarah Koblenz & Amy Kerr. (photo courtesy of Curtain Call Theatre)

All in all, the four performers give their all. It really isn’t until the second act that we truly see them come to life (pardon the pun). The second act engages the audience, sews up many loose ends, and makes us sense that Simon has finally figured out what it was he was going after. 

Another Curtain Call veteran, actor-director Barbara Richards manipulates her cast through the exposition, and keeps the show moving, making her direction appear almost imperceptible. Her cast is allowed to live, breathe, and shine on their own. If the audience is unaware they have been manipulated or at least steered by the director, their job has been done most successfully.

Rose and Walsh turns out to be an enjoyable evening at the theater on a hot summer night. Theater founder Carol Max deserves much credit, allowing Capital Region audiences the opportunity to view lesser-known properties by well-known playwrights and giving newer playwrights the opportunity to be seen and heard. 

Rose and Walsh runs through August 7. Tickets are $30. Masks are required in the theater. For ticket information call 518-877-7529.

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