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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Gingerbread Lady doesnt crumble

Published: December 2, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.

Neil Simons The Gingerbread Lady played in the Shapiro Theater Nov. 17-20. The show was presented by the Hillel Theater Group and directed by Kenny Fuentes 08. Songs by Dean Martin and Louis ArmstrongElla Fitzgerald duets played before the play began and during the two intermissions.

The plot of Gingerbread Lady follows singer Evy Meara (Joanie Axelbaum 07) as she returns to her Manhattan apartment from a 10-wek stay in the rehab she attended to deal with her alcoholism. She soon finds it extremely hard to stay on the wagon as she deals with her neurotic surroundings. On one side theres the difficulty of simply not drinking, as well as various other ghosts from her past. At the same time her two best friends are approaching nervous breakdown, and her precocious teenage daughter has decided to move in and try to form something approaching a family.

The script is vintage Neil Simon, with plenty of sardonic, world-weary commentary and one-liners with long shelf lives. The only signs that it was written in the 70s were a few outdated references to Vietnam and a vague hippie-ish aspect to Polly Meara. Evys apartment could be seen in the West Side at any point during the past 50 years.

The three supporting roles were uniformly excellent. Rebecca Kotlicky 06 had a field day as Evys wonderfully over-the-top (but still human) egotist friend Toby Landau, who is finally coming to realize how little all those years of vanity amount to. Alain Ackerman 08 plays Evys other best friend, failing actor Jimmy Perry, who gets closer to hysteria the further he gets from an acting job. As Helens wry, ever-patient and supportive daughter Polly, Julia Tejblum 08 successfully conveyed a finely balanced combination of love for her mother and exasperation at her behavior. Estaban Morales 07 and Sam Zuber 09 also shone in brief but memorable roles as Manuel the delivery boy and Helens ex-lover, respectively.

Despite the jokes, there was an overall feeling of tension to the show, both as a result of the seriousness of the situation and the emphasis the actors placed on the dramatic elements of their characters. The scenes where Meara suffers a relapse of her addiction, for example, were played for intensity rather than laughs. This was the trend throughout the play, resulting in a drama with generous touches of humor rather than a comedy with a serious side. In his Directors Note in the playbill, Fuentes wrote, in this play, we find ourselves laughing at the pain inflicted upon ridiculous individuals, many of which are responsible for their own situations. Despite this, we dont laugh out of malice. The laughter isnt cruel, because if it were, we could never sympathize with the characters as much as we do, whether theyre ridiculous or not.