Maybe there’s no foundation all the way down the line, and it’s probably inevitable that the center does not hold, but that was as true for William Saroyan in 1939 as it is today for Marlane Meyer. With “Moe’s Lucky Seven,” Meyer has updated “The Time of Your Life” with another waterfront dive featuring a grungy gaggle of off-the-cuff philosophizers, rough-hewn romantics and walking wounded, to which she has added an oddly dated political overlay.
The result is ambitious, a little silly, and frequently very charming. Moreover, “Moe’s Lucky Seven” gets a first-rate outing from Playwrights Horizons that should attract further development for film or cable.
Plot centers on the return, after a brief absence, of the brash and trashy Patsy (Dierdre O’Connell), ex-g.f. of longshoreman Drew (Rick Dean), the son of the dive’s namesake; would-be writer Moe (Mark Margolis) and aging B-flick siren Janine (Phyllis Somerville).
Patsy has a moth-to-the-flame thing with Drew, and there’s plenty of physical give-and-take in the joint to keep things sparking. The scruffy bunch also includes Drew’s mangy union cronies (Jefferson Mays and Lanny Flaherty), the old-line union leader (Ismael Carlo) and a slick outside agitator (Bruce McCarty) organizing not for workers’ rights but to get the men to join a larger, Eastern-controlled shop (he knows that today the men “want things, not democracy”). Then there’s a mystical, outspoken barkeep (Barry Sherman) and a couple (Jodie Markell and Steve Harris) who narrate the events, sort of, and talk a lot about Adam, Eve and the snake.
But Patsy and Drew are the main attraction, due, in no small measure, to O’Connell’s blistering performance. Careening from one spot to the next, she’s at once explosive and smoldering, a barely containable force of nature (this won’t come as news to fans of O’Connell’s previousperformances) as Patsy tries heroically to figure out who is worth loving and who is worthy of her love. She’s solidly partnered by the sandpaper-voiced Dean and the enigmatic Sherman, who offer conflicting signals along the way.
All of the performances are sporting, and Roberta Levitow has staged the play with exactly the right touch, allowing Meyer’s fanciful wordplay to come through while mostly protecting it from its own self-consciousness. That’s evident also in Rosario Provenza’s fine set, lightening the darkness of a hole-in-the-wall with Chinese lanterns and a glowing juke box, all smokily lit by Robert Wierzel. Tom Broecker’s costumes get it exactly right, too.
This is a classic Playwrights Horizons production, throwing everything good at a work of promise by a talented new writer. “Moe’s Lucky Seven” is an unexpected breath of fresh air at the end of the season. Thanks.