A comedy about the overprivileged; a musical about immigrants Oliver Oliver Comedy by Paul Osborn. Directed by Vivian Matalon.
New York — ``What about a game of tennis?'' asks a weekend visitor in Paul Osborn's lightly romantic ``Oliver Oliver.'' The invitation signals that we are back in a pre-1929 world when summer was the favorite season, social comedies had drawing rooms to be comic in, and matches were made on and off the court. Matchmaking is the principal sport of ``Oliver Oliver.'' Having squandered the inheritances from two husbands, impoverished Constance Oakshot (Frances Sternhagen) determines that her indolent, spendthrift son Oliver (Timothy Daly) shall marry Phyllis Tiverton (Patricia Clarkson), the independently wealthy daughter of Constance's lifelong friend Judith (Nancy Marchand). A featherbrained romantic who probably believes that marriages are made in heaven, Constance is nevertheless more than ready to give hea ven a helping hand. For reasons of their own, Oliver and Phyllis have other ideas -- at least initially.
``Oliver Oliver'' ran only 11 performances when first produced in 1934. The Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) revival, directed by Vivian Matalon, solves at least some of the problems and seizes on a good many of the opportunities presented by this very slight comedy about life among the overprivileged.
Miss Sternhagen comes off best as the dizzy but single-minded matchmaker who incidentally dazzles the ebullient Ohio tycoon Oliver has brought home for his mother to charm. As ``the richest man in Ohio,'' Kurt Knudson never allows restraint to spoil his fun with a plummy part. Miss Marchand tosses off Judith's wisecracks with acidulous arrogance. The cast as a whole strives for the airs and graces required to give a casually lived-in look to set designer Tom Schwinn's opulent premises, brightly lighted by Richard Nelson. Albert Wolsky created the 1920s costumes, and Paul Huntley, the period hair and wigs.
Mr. Osborn himself seems less at home in these posh surroundings than in the more modest Midwestern milieu of ``Tomorrow's Monday'' and ``Morning's at Seven.'' ``Oliver Oliver'' is scheduled to run through Dec. 1 at the MTC space in City Center Theater. The Golden Land Musical created by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld. Directed by Jacques Levy. Musical staging by Donald Saddler.
``The Golden Land,'' at the Second Avenue Theatre (most recently the Entermedia), dips into the rich treasury of Yiddish-American entertainment for what its sponsors call ``A Joyous New Musical.'' The anthology assembled by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld (and performed in English) is at least ``new'' in the sense that the contents will seem fresh to most younger spectators while stirring memories for their elders. And there can be no question about the infectious joy of this ingratiatingly mellow va udeville.
The songs and sketches of the potpourri are loosely linked by an unseen grandmother's reminiscences about the experience of Jewish immigrants from the time they began pouring through Ellis Island around the turn of the century. The musical retrospective covers familiar aspects of the experience, from the initiation of greenhorns to assimilation and upward mobility. The compilers do not ignore the darker side of the adventure -- such as the evils of the sweatshop and the tragedy of the 1911 Triangle fact ory fire.
The show overreaches itself in Act II by attempting to incorporate too much history. But the creators of ``The Golden Land'' can be forgiven for trying to touch as many bases as possible. The musical numbers and sketches are excellently served by singer-dancers Bruce Adler, Phyllis Berk, Joanne Borts, Avi Hoffman, Marc Krause, and Neva Small. Jacques Levy's direction, Donald Saddler's musical staging, and the accompaniment of the Golden Land Klezmer Orchestra led by Mr. Mlotek all contribute to sustaini ng the lively pace and rich flavor of the entertainment.
``The Golden Land'' celebrates the work of generations of creative and performing artists. Program credits include the names of Arnold Perlmutter and Herman Wohl, Emma Lazarus (``Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor. . .''), Boris Thomashevsky, Aaron Lebedeff, Sholom Secunda, and Leo Gordon (Mr. Mlotek's grandfather). What more suitable location for this golden celebration than the playhouse built in the 1930s by the great Maurice Schwartz himself and originally known as the Yiddish Art Theatre?