Nights at the Algonquin Round Table
Reviewed by Julio Martinez
The Three Clubs Stage
Through June 23
Playwright Steven Vlasak’s well-crafted Nights at the Algonquin Round Table offers a satisfying glimpse into the lives of the legendary 1920s Manhattan literati who gathered daily for ten years (1919-1929) in the Rose Room of the Algonquin Hotel. As their numbers grew, a round table was provided to give all equal access to one another. Vlasak’s work focuses on the shenanigans of critic/poet Dorothy Parker (Roz Stanley), humorist Robert Benchley (Nicholas Daly Clark), critic/columnist Alexander Woollcott (Steve Brock), playwright George S. Kaufman (Chris Gooch), and columnist Franklin Pierce Adams (Craig Win). The proceedings are witnessed by young starry-eyed neophyte writer Jack Beck (Christopher Tedtoe) and world-weary but sympathetic Algonquin waitress Sally Ardath (Jo Harris). Providing the period-proper musical embellishment is the Piano Man (Richard E. Harris).
Vlasak properly glosses over the self-serving antics of the group, offering enough of their jibes, wisecracks, jokes, and epiphanies to solidify the general tone of the round table gab fests without turning it into a tedious historical recounting of their brilliance. Fluidly staged by Dig Wayne, the play is at its best when Jack is being manipulated and molded by two dynamic broads, Roz Stanley’s world-wise Parker and Jo Harris’s street-smart Sally. Stanley manages to convey varying levels of inebriation to great comedic effect, while never losing her image. Her Parker simultaneously embodies the contempt she has for her lifestyle while luxuriating within it.
Ardath’s expressive face communicates every aspect of her shifting feelings for Jack, finally letting loose in a free-flowing song-and-dance rendering of the popular Ziegfeld Follies hit, “Ballin’ the Jack”. Vlasak and director Wayne utilize the two gals to guide young farm boy Jack into 1925 Manhattan. The ladies enjoy this young man so much it is infectious, and Tedtoe’s Jack proves to be agreeably malleable.
The playwright makes economic but effective use of famous quotes. The only weakness in the work is the dynamic of the literary giants who never match their real-life credits. Clark’s Benchley has the advantage of addressing his audience, allowing the humorist to score some points. Nicholas Clark Brock’s dreaded Woollcott (the inspiration for Kaufman and Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner) and Gooch’s sharp-witted Kaufman never rise out of the confines of the table gathering to stand out in any significant way. In fact, Gooch at times seems to swallow his lines.
Complementing the production are Christine Vlasak’s period-perfect costumes, and the minimalist set (un-credited) in the intimate speak-easy style confines of The Three Clubs Stage. Together, these design aspects created the right atmosphere for a glimpse at a memorable period of time in this country’s intellectual history.
The Three Clubs Stage, 1123 N. Vine St, Hollywood; Fri, June 23, 8:30 http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4381. Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission