It was another time. It was a time of high anxiety. Even private lives were far from private in the treacherous, early 1950’s with the likes of Senator Joseph McCarthy and columnist Hedda Hopper gaining fame and power for outing those they detested.
That is the context for All Save One. It is the Washington Stage Guild (WSG) world premiere production of local playwright Greg Jones Ellis’s new work, All Save One.
As playwright Ellis writes in his program notes, All Save One is about a small cadre of people living in a time of crisis. They include three members of a household with some personal secrets. The household includes “a closeted man [a famous playwright and war hero], a wife willing to overlook his obvious preferences, and the man who has evolved from early lover to longtime ‘secretary’ to the playwright,” noted Ellis.
The play also has a handsome young priest and a film producer with secrets of their own, along with one unseen young male character who brings much to a boil.
This unseen character, though he is heard from time-to-time, is a malicious young man staying in a beach house, who turns out to be a rather nasty blackmailer.
The cast of All Save One includes Bill Largess who portrays a “50-ish” author named Sims Glendenning. Once a war hero for his bravery, Glendenning is now a world-famous author with a major case of writer’s block. He is a man with many secrets including his living arrangements and a hidden fear of aging. Does he need a new love affair to escape his writer’s block? Why isn’t his marriage one of any sexuality? Does he need to find religion and God? Largess plays his role as an un-showy man tied up in knots; he is rarely demonstrative in showing public feelings except when his wife uses words he considers blasphemous.
Laura Giannarelli plays the actress Claire Morgan and the wife and a protector of author Glendenning. She is not quite sure of her husband’s intimate arrangements but chooses not to ask questions. But, then another man steps into her life. What is to be done? As Morgan, Giannarelli is vivacious, verbally fluent and quick with a bon mot. Her character is one with her own secrets she had purposely buried years before. She has a Jewish background she wishes to escape so as to make it in the performing arts in Great Britain and America.
R. Scott Williams portrays the acidic, witty Basil Steele who is the long-time, live-in “secretary” for playwright Glendenning. As Steele, Williams is a keen observer of all the goings-on in the household. He has plenty of sharp, stinging comments at his disposal. But, he has a heart of gold and utterly loves and protects Glendenning. While Williams’ comic ways with barbs are fun to behold, his character is way more three dimensional than just a purveyor of snaps. It is the character Steele who asks some of the most intimate questions in the play, including this one: “How do you feel when you are not together? More free More lonely? And it is Steele’s own fear of being without Glendenning in his life that brings him to take actions for their survival.
Lawrence Redmond plays a Hollywood producer named John Grant. Well, that is his name now. He too has a hidden Jewish background. He calls himself, “less Jew and more-ish.” He has other secrets too including a youthful dalliance with left-wing politics when 1950’s America is turning into new directions. Danny Beason portrays a young Catholic priest named Father Theodor, a “technical advisor” to the Hollywood stars. To describe Father Theodor, let me use a Basil Steele observation: he is more Montgomery Clift than Spencer Tracy. Father Theodor has a deep secret too, something that can be his undoing even as he tries to hide it.
The WSG set for All Save One is an evocation of a mid-20th-century beachside mansion designed by Carl Gudenius, Kirk Kristlibas, and Jingwei Dai. The natty costumes designed by Reema Al-Bawardy include sweaters and sweater vests, and square-shouldered jackets for the male characters and some spiffy, full-skirted outfits for Gioannarelli.
The sound design by Frank DiSalvo Jr. is a delight of musical selections for the pre-show and intermission tunes, suggesting the times with “Stardust,” “Blue Skies,” “Always,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” to name a few.
As directed by Carl Randolph, All Save One is a very civilized production with a comfortable bite to it. At times I wanted more coarseness and action to make its important points. It is a drawing-room dark comedy, well-suited for the smart set who will find it appealing for its well turned-out honeyed verbal wit, a soupcon of well-placed expletives, snappy Hollywood name-dropping and a neatly arranged wrap-up. Randolph is an Artistic Associate of the Washington Stage Guild making his company directing debut.
All Save One is a caring script and production to remind audiences of what the past was like. It is a play that tries to say oodles about adapting to new times to survive. And in its own way, All Save One is a warning about the near future as personal privacy is once again at stake. It is a script with a message that people need to face danger and take it on, that being shocked should not cause people to freeze in place even if exposure is threatened.
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission.
All Save One plays through December 9, 2018, at Washington Stage Guild performing at the Undercroft Theatre – 900 Massachusetts Ave NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door or go online.
NOTE: There is no performance on Thanksgiving (November 22), but there is an added matinee performance on Friday, November 23 at 2:30 pm.