“The Beautiful People,” one of William Saroyan’s more obscure plays, focuses on appreciating life. Although the lessons of this positive homage to the human spirit are still relevant, the play’s emphasis on philosophizing makes for a tedious evening.
The story concerns the humble and happy Webster family, consisting of a father, two sons and a daughter.
The father, Jonah (Jacob Witkin), upholds his responsibilities by listening, giving advice and being kind and patient. Son Owen (Travis Rodman) is youth incarnate, asking timeless questions, speaking of timeless philosophies. Agnes (Liz Bickley) is innocent, and kind to all — particularly the little mice, clearly an allegory for the (beautiful) people of earth.
Yet the long philosophical monologues and incredibly slow pace result in a dull production. By writing a play of complete good will, Saroyan seems to have anesthetized his characters.
There are, however, some delightful performances, particularly Jerry Neill as the vice president of the company that dispenses old Jonah’s monthly pension. Neill’s portrayal of a repressed businessman is welcome comic relief.
Another assured performance is given by Armand Asselin, in the part of Jonah’s alcoholic friend. The character is a representation of youth too quickly gone and the sorrow of opportunities missed. Asselin aptly captures the remorse and bitterness in a sadly comic characterization.
Set design by Jim Barbaley perfectly indicates the inside of a modest old house with all its faded furnishings.
So while remaining true to Saroyan’s vision of goodwill, director Sharon Higgins’ production is far too slow for these days.