Peter Filicha's Diary
The Late Christopher Bean
November 11, 2009
Only a Kingdom -- But More Than That
It happens at least once a month. A friend or – in this case – a friend of my girlfriend says, “Listen, I know someone who’s written a musical and would love to get some feedback and some advice on how to get to the next step.” And while I’ve wasted quite a few evenings with people who turn out to don’t know the first thing about musicals, utter amateurs who have written atrocities, I still say yes. I’ve just come to expect very little, that’s all.
With my girlfriend busy with her second-Monday-of-the month poker game, I agreed to meet Judith Shubow Steir at 6 p.m., and even threw in the bonus of offering her my second seat to TACT’s production of The Late Christopher Bean at 7:30 p.m. As soon as I did, though, I thought I may have made a mistake. A more likely scenario would be my wanting to get away from this so-called author after a difficult hour-and-a-half.
Steir turned out to be, as the expression goes, “no kid,” but had a youthful vigor. Of course, I knew a large manila envelope would soon be proffered, and there it was. Yes, Steir told me, she had written book, music, and lyrics, which is rarely a good sign. How many “triple threats” in the history of Broadway have succeeded? As Sondheim – only a double threat himself -- once wrote, “Damn few…”
…But it was time to go off to Sidney Howard’s The Late Christopher Bean, which is terrific, by the way; another complete success from TACT, The Actors Company Theatre, my favorite troupe in the city. Bless Scott Alan Evans, Cynthia Harris and Simon Jones for finding these forgotten-but-still wonderful plays and the directors (in this case, Jenn Thompson) who bring them so lovingly to life.
I mention this for two reasons: One, to recommend that you rush to this exemplary production that spoofs an upwardly mobile Yankee family who only becomes interested in the paintings they’ve had hanging around the house when they hear they’re worth something. Turns out their maid has a most valuable one, and they’ll try to cheat her out of it. The nine actors are accomplished, to be sure, but, oh, that Mary Bacon as the maid!
But the second reason I mention this is that one can tell a great deal about a person from how he – or, in this case, she – reacts to a play. Steir was with it every step of the way, laughing in (at least what I considered to be) the right places, enjoying seeing events play out as they did, following and appreciating the subtext and subtleties of the work. This is one sharp cookie, I decided.