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Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Review
Rob Bartlett is a likeable comic with the enough presence and skills -- timing, versatility and mimicry -- to command a stage. I can see where he might be a big hit with the comedy club crowd and even the thousands of comics trying to hold their own in this crowded and youth-oriented playing field. Our first encounter with Bartlett has him cleverly facing an unseen audience so that the real audience is more or less on the inside looking in. It raises hopes that he is not just another stand-up comic with Broadway ambition.
But our hopes are quickly dashed. More to Love is a stand-up comedy club routine masquerading as a legitimate Broadway comedy. Its presence at the Eugene O'Neill Theater prompts more questions than belly laughs.
How in the world did this second banana to radio's Don Imus (Imus In the Morning) become a Broadway star with two fine actresses like Dana Reeve and Joyce Van Patten as his second bananas? And how could both be given such scant opportunity to do honor to their supporting roles, as did Art Carney and Audrey Meadows when they worked with his idol and inspiration, Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners?
Is there some special challenge about turning a lean cuisine dramatic situation into a real play that promised sufficient rewards to engage the services of a top-notch director like Jack O'Brien? On a similar note, did the talented David Gallo come aboard because he couldn't resist the chance to create the Rube Goldberg suburban garage that is the driving visual metaphor of this ninety-five minute ramble amid the physical and emotional clutter in the life of a semi-fictional Rob on the brink of the big 4-0?
Does this homage to Jackie Gleason really do honor to the "Great One" as Gleason aptly referred to himself? While Bartlett has a big well padded frame, he lacks the blubbery loose face that made you laugh even when nothing was said. In the same vein, while you always knew Ralph's "One of these days, Alice" were the threats of a pussycat, Bartlett's is so fixated on being Mr. Funny Nice Guy that he can only "stick it" to Alice by wafting his magic remote à la Walter Mitty. It makes for a decidely thinner comedic broth. Rob is also not quite the man of the masses that Ralph the bus driver was though that may be offset by the fact that there are probably enough second-string show biz and advertising types who can identify with Rob's kind career angst about not losing out on a last big chance (in this case an HBO special).
Gleason's Alice as scripted by Bartlett (unlike the insecure stage Rob, the real Rob's self-confidence seems limitless!) is a pale imitation of the raised eyebrow nag. This Alice's acerbity is limited to repetitive fat man jokes. Ms. Reeve is a fine actress and having heard her sing at some of the Williamstown Theatre Festival's cabarets, I know her capabilities in that department as well. She deserves better than her endless straightman entrances and exits in this comedy and her one "Gilda-type" fantasy song and dance (in which Bartlett also had an authorial hand) .
The second sidekick Barlett has provided for himself makes you want to rush to the Museum of Television and Radio to catch some re-runs of Art Carney's Ed Norton. In the meantime, there's poor Joyce Van Patten as Rob's agent stuck in a series of jack-in-the-box gimmicks reminiscent of another TV show, Laugh In, a big hit in the 1960s.
Maybe if Mr. Bartlett had trusted himself to tread more lightly on the stuff he does best -- his comedy routines -- and delved deeper into the troubled relationship with his father he might have come up with the play this is not. There are a few moments when he plays his father and unpacks the only boxes in the garage that can unclutter his emotional life, that hint at that possibility. Too bad everything else isn't much of a big fat comedy or anything else resembling a moderately nourishing theater piece.