THEATER REVIEW: Tony Pallone is full-on standout in ‘Half and Half’

Half and Half/ Theater Barn/ New Lebanon

ANYONE WHO REGULARLY ATTENDS theater in this geography (Columbia County and surrounds) has probably seen. He is that rare young character actor who, in the company of very good amateurs, stands out as a pro–or, among pros, merely stands out. His work reeks of intelligence and discipline, contradicted perhaps by extraordinary freedom and willingness to take interpretive risks. Audiences might be loath to lose him to Burbank or West 45th Street, but he would seem to belong in both those places.

In “Half and Half,” it’s intriguing to watch his patriarchal first-act husband turn hot-coal-red with rage and incomprehension—followed, in Act II, by his New Age househusband waxing warm, gay-tinged, troubled, and lovable. The househusband character glides around his yellow kitchen, sometimes bursting into ebullient rock dancing, a phenomenon eerily in sync with set designer Abe Phelps’ ebullient buttery walls. (The buttery walls surround a broken window. The rock-dancing surrounds a chipped marriage.)

The play is sit-com-polemic. It pours out sometimes funny, mostly familiar stuff about gender-role extremes in the (sort of) 1970s contrasted with those of 2005. Actually, playwright James Sherman makes the ’70s seem more like the ’40s or ’50s. (Phelps goes along with him a bit, providing Act I with a kitchen table like your great-grandmother’s.) The ’70s husband is written like “Father Knows Best” without the charm.

The skills and exquisite face of Erin Waterhouse serve the second act’s woman-of-the-oughts better than Act one’s emerging feminist; and Teresa Whitt creates appealing, real teenagers out of those offered her by the script.

For a play of a certain kind, the direction by Phil Rice and technical direction by Allen Phelps are just right: they refuse to draw attention to themselves. This, in spite of the fact that, on opening night, an old-fashioned telephone draws attention to itself by falling off the wall in delightful if unintended historical prescience. Both directors deserve appreciation for the successful cooking on stage, which is much harder than it looks.

For those who remain in their seats during intermission, a kind of dance of the eras is performed on the kitchen set. It casually captures the remaining audience. Like embodiments of an emotionless walk of time, two stagehands (Michael MacIntyre and stage manager Megan Smith) establish what seems like a deliberate rhythm and tempo. They make choreographic entrances and exits, exchanging earlier style items for later styles in art, appliances, furniture, color. In addition to the stage wings, they use the set’s trash bin, cupboards, and drawers to stash away the past. Rather than the usual you-don’t-really see-me-doing-this-set-change, it becomes positively cinematic and glued to the play.

The ending of “Half and Half” is like an abrupt cadence in a different key. Oh. Is that the end?

See Pallone and company through September 21. “Half and Half” is Theater Barn’s final production of the season except for a special limited engagement of Carl Ritchie’s “The Real Desperate Housewives of Columbia County,” a musical starring Amy Fiebke, Meg Dooley, Diedre Bollinger and Cathy Lee-Visscher September 26 through 28.) Contact the Barn at 518 794-8989.

 

 

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