On Stage: Life of Irish Playwright and Yiddish Vaudeville

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

GRANDCHILD OF KINGS Play adapted and directed by Harold Prince, based on autobiographies of Sean O'Casey. Presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre Company at Theater for the New City through March 29.

`GRANDCHILD of Kings" fills the cavernous inner spaces of Theater for the New City with the stir and bustle of the youthful Sean O'Casey's Dublin. Spanning the years 1880 to 1910, Harold Prince's spirited adaptation of the first two tomes of O' Casey's six-volume autobiography enriches the Off Broadway season and furthers the achievements of the Irish Repertory Theatre Company. Mr. Prince's distillation embellishes the text with traditional music and dance movement.

The tribulations of young John (later changed to Sean) center around such ordeals as the treatment of his poor eyesight, his father's death, and his enrollment in a Protestant day school. In his exposure to the world of officialdom, the portraits of such grown-ups as doctors and schoolmasters shows them as mainly officious and uncaring. A maturing Sean is introduced to sex, almost debuts as an actor, and eventually reflects that he is starting to stay too long in the hallways looking at pictures made by others. (The second of his six autobiographical volumes was titled, "Pictures in the Hallway.")

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Throughout his childhood experiences, Sean's magnificent mother emerges as the stalwart protector of her early orphaned little boy. Pauline Flanagan's deeply maternal figure is a major strength of the performance staged by Prince. Other family members are capably acted by Padraic Moyles as Johnny (young Sean), Patrick Fitzgerald (Sean), Chris O'Neill (Old Sean), and Terry Donnelly (Ella). The 19-member cast, most of whose members play multiple roles, makes full use of the elongated playing space, mobile props, and set pieces provided by designer Eugene Lee and lighted by Peter Kaczorowski.

Prince's adaptation is the latest such borrowing from O'Casey's autobiographical works. Back in the 1950s, Paul Shyre arranged the first two volumes for staged readings. Broadway producer-director Prince will follow this play with a second work from the O'Casey treasure trove. FINKEL'S FOLLIES Vaudeville revue starring Fyvush Finkel, with music by Elliot Finkel and lyrics by Philip Namanworth. Adapted and directed by Robert H. Livingston. At the Westside Theatre.

`Finkel's Follies" pays affectionate and sentimental tribute to a golden era of Yiddish vaudeville. With the veteran Fyvush Finkel to master the ceremonies, set the tone, and trace the history, the show has taken up residence at the Westside Theatre. Customers in search of comic entertainment that blends the contemporary with the nostalgic will not be disappointed at the Finkel fare.

Mr. Finkel is a funnyman with a flair for pleasing the crowd. His round eyes are mischievously expressive. He elevates mugging to a fine art. Whether as sketch participant, impressionist, or anecdotalist, he calls on his years in Jewish vaudeville to suit the joke to the occasion and the expression to the joke.

"Finkel's Follies" is never at a loss for a sketch (in Mrs. Gertrude Finkel's translations). The skits range the territory in which the couple is so well versed. Sketches about tailoring, landlordism, weddings, and similar familiar topics. Finkel also drops names - Molly Picon, Willie Howard ("We all wanted to be like Willie Howard"), Irving Jacobson, Jenny Goldstein, et al.

He recalls that when Jacob P. Adler considered doing his Lear uptown, the great Yiddish star wondered, "Do you think it will play in English?" When he comes to Menasha Skulnik, Finkel mimics a Skulnik sketch. But he also has sketches of his own, remarking about one of them: "I've been doing this sketch since I'm in my teens." Speaking of his achievements as an inventor, he informs: "One of my inventions is a square bathtub. You shouldn't leave a ring."

Although Finkel is naturally the main attraction, he shares the stage generously with three comic associates: the ever reliable Avi Ber Hoffman, svelte Mary Ellen Ashley, and delectable Laura Turnbull as the odd girl out of the foursome. Robert H. Livingston has staged the merriment in the casual style that suits it best. Scenery and costume designer Mimi Maxmen has cluttered the stage with an archival setting that includes two convenient clothes racks, all atmospherically lighted by Robert Bessoir. Mike

Huffman leads the small offstage combo.

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