Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
The Gingerbread Lady
Also see Cindy's review of Crazy for You
Set in 1970 New York City, The Gingerbread Lady unfurls in a lived-in brownstone apartment with warm and cozy earth-tones kissed by Guy Haubrich's atmospheric lighting design. Set designer Nicole DeCicco dresses the intimate space with nice period pieces that are well-assembled and arranged. Through the sole window in the living room, we can see bumper to bumper traffic. The neighborhood is bustling.
Jimmy Perry (fellow Talkin' Broadway reviewer Jeffrey Bruce), a gay, unemployed actor with big dreams, emerges from the back bedroom to answer the door. A friend of Evy awaiting her arrival from a 10-week stint at rehab, Jimmy opens the door to find delivery guy Manuel (Joey De La Rua) attempting to deliver groceries to the tenant. Wonderful banter between the duo ensues, framing the clever wordplay that will permeate the drama for its 2-1/2 hour duration.
As Jimmy continues to prep, mutual friend Toby Landau (Janice Hamilton) arrives with Evy in tow. Stylized by costume designer Jerry Sturdevant from head to toe, slender Toby looks far more put together than she is on the inside, and her constant need for praise and reassurance proves it. Evy announces her entrance from the hallway, and at last, the anticipation of the audience and characters on stage is satiated. As Evy, Patti Gardner is a tour de force with a presence that leaves its mark. It is easy to see as she saunters in 40 lbs lighter than when they last laid eyes on her why she is a planet around which her friends orbit. She is restless, agitated and antsy and we all want to know why.
After everyone exits the apartment, Evy is left alone, a state that she doesn't like or enjoy. Her 17-year-old daughter Polly (Gaby Tortoledo) shows up ready to move in. Clad in bell bottoms and a light blue turtleneck, Polly embodies the '70s the most. Evie balks at the idea of Polly living with her. Although she is unsteady in her constitution, both spiritually and emotionally, Evy is well enough to know that she is unfit to be a mother. She is so weak that she lets her ex-boyfriend Lou (Seth Trucks), a scruffy guitar-player, back into her life. But that is only a part of her coming undone. Part Maggie the cat from Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, her go-to plea of don't be mad at me soon loses its winsome charm.
The Gingerbread Lady is a powerful story about a woman who lives on the fringe of health and wholeness and the messed-up loved ones who live in her sphere. With solid performances across the board under Genie Croft's sharp direction and a true grit that goes deeper than any other Neil Simon play, the meaty and substantive dialogue is chewed and swallowed well by every cast member. Watching Evy belittle herself in word and deed is heartbreaking, particularly since the lighting captures the mood in every scene. Downcast or stark when needed, the lighting serves as great punctuation for a drama that pants one moment and exhales softly the next. Evy is tortured, vacant somehow, and we are drawn to her void.
Surprisingly and historically, this Neil Simon play has not been as well-received as its predecessors. Some believe it was written specifically for actress Maureen Stapleton and based on the life of Judy Garland. Simon himself has asserted that Evy is a combination of "ten, twenty different actresses" he has met over the years. Although I wish there were more scenes with Lou and an explanation for Evie's alcoholism, The Gingerbread Lady stands firm as is. Whatever the origin and for whatever reason this play has been one of Simon's least successful plays on Broadway, this production in Boca Raton is more than enough to revive interest.
Primal Forces' The Gingerbread Lady, through April 14, 2019, at the Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton FL. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are available at www.primalforces.com for $30-35 or by calling 866-811-4111.