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Mixed Emotions

Aworthy experiment in bringing down both production costs and ticket prices, the Broadway Alliance has so far attracted -- with one exception -- amateur plays that share appalling values. After a long hiatus, the Alliance resumes operations with "Mixed Emotions"-- and so does that young tradition.

Aworthy experiment in bringing down both production costs and ticket prices, the Broadway Alliance has so far attracted — with one exception — amateur plays that share appalling values. After a long hiatus, the Alliance resumes operations with “Mixed Emotions”– and so does that young tradition.

A threadbare sketch struggling vainly to be a boulevard comedy for the ’90s, Richard Baer’s new play features vets Harold Gould and Katherine Helmond, though most of the television work for which these two are best known is infinitely sharper and more credible than what’s being passed off as humor here. Even the matinee crowd is likely to find “Mixed Emotions” flat. While the relatively low $ 35 ticket may bring a few folks into the theater, long-term prospects are about nil.

Set in Manhattan, the play concerns the aggressive efforts of Gould’s fussy, carpet-salesman widower to marry and bed (not necessarily in that order) Helmond , a self-assured interior decorator and his best friend’s widow. For decades the couples were inseparable, and there are lots of references to dead spouses watching from above.

Now Christine (the odd Catholic among three Jews) is packing up to move in with a friend in Miami. Driven by horniness that Christine finds at first amusing and then a little scary, Herman pursues her with all the subtlety — and appeal — of a redneck bent on date rape.

That Christine will yield — even that she will end up abandoning her plan to relocate to stay with Herman — is not in question, these being the conventions of such fare. The second act dwells a bit more on the loneliness that might force an aging couple to make compromises.

There’s also a little bit of truth-telling about the sainted spouses that will do no harm to their reputations. These serious subjects surely were on the author’s mind, and may have been what attracted the stars and a good director to “Mixed Emotions.” But the play is riddled with the flat, phony humor of a dilettante writer encouraged by friends; Gould and Helmond, whose performances have the ring of conviction, often seem bewildered by the material despite Tony Giordano’s limpid direction.

Christine’s change of mind at the end of each act may follow genre convention , but Baer makes no case for either one. Similarly, Herman’s coarseness and his obsessive equation of love and money may indeed be something aging widows take as a given with aging widowers, but if Christine finds something endearing in Herman to offset his unceasing vulgarity, it isn’t in Baer’s script.

Even at just two hours, “Mixed Emotions” is padded with the principals dancing and with the intrusions of a pair of New York moving men (Vinny Capone and Brian Smiar), neither of whom exists in nature. Production values are OK, though Neil Peter Jampolis’ set looks less like a chic Manhattan living room than the reception area at a suburban corporate headquarters.

Mixed Emotions

(John Golden Theater, New York; 805 capacity; $ 35 top)

  • Production: A Michael Maurer presentation of a play in two acts by Richard Baer. Directed by Tony Giordano.
  • Crew: Set, lighting, Neil Peter Jampolis; costumes, David Murin; sound, Dan Moses Schreier; general manager, Gindi Theatrical Management; casting , Pat McCorkle/Diane Silverstadt; production stage manager, Tom Aberger; press, Shirley Herz Assocs.; produced under Broadway Alliance guidelines. Opened Oct. 12, 1993, reviewed Oct. 11.
  • Cast: Chuck ... Vinny Capone Ralph ... Brian Smiar Christine Millman ... Katherine Helmond Herman Lewis ... Harold Gould
  • Music By: