Leah Kornfeld Friedman’s experiences as a young stenographer in Gotham’s garment district have been turned into a creative but flawed amalgam of gritty noir-esque melodrama and stylized absurdism. A capable nine-member ensemble delivers impressive perfs, but “The Good Steno” never settles long enough into either melodrama or absurdism.
Waif-like Brooklyn-born teen Gloria (Noelle Arzillo) is a naive steno school grad who finds herself having to explain a whole lot of nasty doings to a sympathetic but relentless NYPD detective (Michael Oberlander). Gloria recalls her experiences at the garment district swimsuit factory ruled over by the impishly comical but grotesquely sleazy owner Morty (Paul Ben-Victor).
Idealistic Gloria is pitted against Morty’s ruthless bullying and his insistence that his models “entertain” potential buyers in the factory’s backroom. Gloria works to avoid the lecherous and intimidating advances of the factory’s middle-aged top salesman Jack (Louis Giambalvo); she has had her own horrific backroom experience with a sadistic salesman (Andrew Hawkes).
Also compelling are the hard-luck experiences of swimsuit models Marli (Erin Cummings) and Hansen (Johanna Torell), and Gloria’s own troubled home life with misanthropic Jewish American parents(Veronica Alicino, Hawkes).
Helmer Ben-Victor diffuses this central theme with clumsily staged farcical inserts meant to evoke the socio-emotional aura of 1946 Manhattan, including impromptu performances by Frank Sinatra (a lip-syncing Oberlander) at the Copa, Gene Kelly (Nick Drago) hoofing his way through the MGM tuner, “Cover Girl,” with Gloria serving as a faux Rita Hayworth, and an amateurish full ensemble dance routine staged by choreographer Nathan Provost.
Despite the production flaws, the performances are generally first rate. Arzillo creates a haunting portrait of gentle but brave soul struggling to survive within a life-crushing environment. Ben-Victor totally inhabits the soulless but guileful Morty. Other notable perfs include Giambalvo’s ever-smiling Jack, and Torell’s brief but well-realized Hansen, a war widow desperately attempting to keep her modeling job and her dignity while side-stepping Morty’s seething malevolence.
Enhancing the production throughout are the period-specific costumes of Agata Maszkiewicz.