‘According to Goldman’ at Act II Playhouse in Philadelphia

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While one often finds the journey to a Philly suburb arduous, According to Goldman makes the trip out to Ambler worth it. As a patron walks into the theater, people are socializing, cackling, and joking. Considering the show has already been extended due to sheer mass of subscriptions, everyone there knows each other. Patrons are loyal and now I can see why.

According to Goldman makes its Philadelphia return at Act II Playhouse in Ambler after its 2007 Barrymore-nominated premiere. Playwright Bruce Graham tells the story of Gavin Miller (Tony Braithwaite), an ex-screenwriter turned professor who might get a shot at the big screen once again. This (mostly) realistic excerpt concentrates on two of Gavin’s relationships: one with his sociable wife Melanie (Susan Riley Stevens) and the other with new student Jeremiah Collins (Luke Brahdt).

Tony Braithwaite and Susan Riley Stevens. Photo by Bill D'Agostino.
Tony Braithwaite and Susan Riley Stevens. Photo by Bill D’Agostino.

This is the third play of Graham’s that Act II has produced. Though the show is not considered autobiographical, Graham’s time in the movie business gleams throughout. As Gavin states, some people speak movie, and so does Graham. However, the movie references do not throw off an audience member that hasn’t seen a lot of movies before 1949, but rather enrich the emersive movie/play experience. Since Gavin is a professor, Graham gives him the opportunity to teach the actual audience as well as his hypothetical classroom.

Director David Bradley is no stranger to telling stories, and it shows. As a company member and avid director at People’s Light as well as directing at Indiana Rep, PYP, and more, Bradley successfully brings to life the eloquent words of Graham. This play is full of direct address. Bradley makes this a comfortable experience, which is no easy feat when set within realism. The complicated multi-location blocking makes a lot of sense, minus a couple of direct addresses from Jeremiah being set in different locations.

However, Luke Brahdt as Jeremiah delights the audience with his monologues and character’s journey: anyone who can make a dance number aside feel natural is doing it right. Jeremiah’s awkward social interaction helps set the story into motion, and we can’t help but root for this kid.

Barrymore Award-winning actress Susan Riley Stevens plays Gavin’s stifled wife, Melanie. Though she is definitely the “straight man” of the three characters, she does nothing short of grounded, authentic performance. Her monologues with her invisible neighbor are especially difficult, and she indefinitely made them believable.

Tony Braithwaite, Artistic Director of Act II, shines as the leading role. You can tell he feels very comfortable onstage, and his energy is infectious throughout the entire show. Gavin has a lot of one liners, and never once did they feel old or forced, a clear team effort and balance with both Braithwaite and Bradley. I found myself laughing and questioning and screaming along with this character: a true testament to Braithwaite’s performance.

Luke Brahdt and Tony Braithwaite. Photo by Bill D'Agostino.
Luke Brahdt and Tony Braithwaite. Photo by Bill D’Agostino.

The overall design is successful.The Rat Pack soundscape of Michael Hahn’s sound design transports the audience into a different era filled with recognizable jazz and movie standard tunes to effectively juxtapose the modern movie content.

Colin McIlvaine’s rich set gives the actors the ability to move from space to space as well as be in several places at once, a difficult task that written into the play. The comfy looking living room set could be easily transformed by the fly-on chalk board, helping to distinguish the space between home and work.

Lily Fossner’s lighting helps separate Gavin’s different worlds of home life and work life until the two later combine, seen through the realistic lighting.

Amanda Wolff’s costumes clearly indicated the realistic differences between the characters, while still adding a touch of the theatrical.

Jeremiah’s distressed sweatshirt opposed Gavin’s crisp suburban button up really shows the detail put into the costumes.

Though most of the play is a laugh-out-loud kind of funny, the cast really shines in the serious moments. Advertised as a comedic drama, both worlds are equally represented and played effectively.

Though this was my first trip out to Ambler, I can assure it will not be my last.

According to Goldman is Act II’s season opener, and trust me, you’ll want keep an eye out for the rest of their season.

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

According to Goldman plays through October 11, 2015 at Act II Playhouse  – 56 East Butler Avenue, in Ambler, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 654-0200, or purchase them online.

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