Director David Galligan has updated John Herbert’s “Fortune and Men’s Eyes” by a decade, to 1978, and changed one of the characters from black to Caucasian. The changes don’t add much, but they don’t hurt. And the 1967 play still packs a punch in this surehanded production.
Set in an unidentified prison, “Fortune” follows the arrival of fresh young Smitty and his debasement at the hands of his cellmates. The three are as stereotyped as the Village People: Queenie’s a flamboyant fellow whose repertoire of impersonations includes what seems to be every femme star of the ‘ 30s; Rocky is a New York street tough; and Mona (for “Mona Lisa”) is a quiet, submissive man whose relationship to the others changes throughout the play’s 2 1/2-month time frame.
Galligan’s updating seems mainly an excuse to use songs including Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” as ironic source music.
It might be argued that the closer to the ’90s “Fortune” is set, the less likely Smitty is to be as naive as he’s initially presented. And would a prisonguard be making $ 50 a week in 1978?
Every character, including the prison guard, gets his time in the spotlight, but Smitty is clearly the central character around whom the action revolves.
Jay Underwood gives Smitty much dimension; the strength of his acting ability becomes more evident as the character develops.
Queenie, Rocky and Mona remain pretty much the same people from beginning to end; Steven Walter-Kirk and Alex D’Andrea are fine, with the former getting all of the good lines; David Packer’s performance as Mona is the most subtle of the bunch and, in many ways, the most effective.
Underwood and Packer bog down a bit during an uncharacteristically talky section of Act II, but that long stretch of speechifying dialogue would be difficult for anyone to deliver.
Robert Schuch cuts an impressive figure as the prison guard.
Deborah Raymond and Dorian Vernacchio have designed an impressive prison cell , with running water and an ominously clanging door; the theater even smells of disinfectant.
Michael Gilliam’s lights are fine; Rick A. Dominguez’s sound not so: though one of the characters plays with a boom-box, the music comes from the sky.
Also, a recurrent sound effect is an echoed clanking sound and what appears to be rainfall; all very imposing, but what exactly is it supposed to be?
Conscientiously, if somewhat needlessly, the printed program calls attention that the play “was written prior to the contemporary issues associated with the tragic AIDS epidemic.”