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The Flowering Peach

Less convincing are Josh Mostel and Steve Hofvendahl's Shem and Ham, Mostel too much of a buffoon to be taken seriously as a striving businessman, Hofvendahl too much the lout and too little the rake to go over as a lothario. Lorraine Serabian has an apt sense of entitlement as Shem's wife Leah, and Molly Scott is brassy as Goldie, the ark's woman with a past (and she gets Theoni V. Aldredge's funniest costume of the evening).

With:
Noah ...Eli Wallach Esther ...Anne Jackson Japheth ... David Aaron Baker Shem ... Josh Mostel Ham ... Steve Hofvendahl Leah ... Lorraine Serabian Rachel ... Joanna Going Goldie ... Molly Scott Apocalypse, nu? In his last play, Clifford Odets recast the story of Noah and the flood as Jewish domestic comedy, Genesis by way of "The Goldbergs": Noah was an ancient tippler, his wife Esther a loving scold; eldest son Shem was a standard bearer for primogeniture, middle son Ham a layabout, youngest son Japheth a near-simpleton with a belligerent streak. The play opened late in December 1954 and had its moments of passion, insight and not a little regret. Some saw it as an allegory about nuclear annihilation, but there was another shadow over it, as well. The play came two years after Odets, having already removed himself from New York to Hollywood, named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was shocked to find himself shunned by former friends. Some speculated that "The Flowering Peach" was a response to that experience, both apologia and defense -- as when, with the great storm building furiously, Esther calls out, "The truth isn't the truth right now, it's a luxury." Whatever the case, the public didn't buy it then (the play closed after just five months) and they probably won't buy it now, though there is a real sweetness in Martin Charnin's revival, headlined by veterans Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, for the National Actors Theater. This is material with which Charnin is intimately familiar; he wrote the lyrics for "Two by Two," a 1970 musical based on the play, with music by an ailing Richard Rodgers and book by Peter Stone, and with Danny Kaye and Joan Copeland as the scrappy couple. With his head framed by flowing white wig and beard, Wallach looks every day of the 600 years old the Bible says Noah is when God tells him to begin preparing for the flood. Noah wants nothing of this detailed plan to build an ark, and his family suspects him of having lost his senses until God (actually, composer Keith Levenson) allows His presence to be known to all of them. Wallach moves gracefully and sometimes movingly between shtick and sentimentality, as one imagines Menasha Skulnick did in the original. (There's a funny moment when Wallach comes onstage, shorn of all the white stuff, showing off his sinewy arms and having dropped, oh, 400 years or so -- that echoes, in an odd way, Joe Boyd's transformation into Joe Hardy in the "Damn Yankees" revival across the street.) Wallach and Jackson both seem relaxed in these roles , one small step removed from Yiddish-theater comedy, and Charnin doesn't push. ORIGINAL PRODUCTION Producers Theater production of a comedy-drama in two acts (eight scenes) and epilogue, by Clifford Odets. Staged by the author; scenery, Mordecai Gorelik; lighting, Feder; costumes, Ballou; music, Alan Hovhaness; producer, Robert Whitehead. At Belasco, N.Y., Dec. 28, 1954; $ 5.75-$ 4.60 top ($ 6.90 opening). Noah ...Menasha Skulnik Esther ...Berta Gersten Japheth ... Mario Alcade Shem ... Martin Ritt Ham ... Leon Janney Leah ... Osna Palmer Rachel ... Janice Rule Goldie ... Barbara Baxley Strange Man ... Sidney Armus Fawns ... Marjorie Barrett, Patricia Fay Goat ... Barbara Kay Old Men ... Ludwig Roth, Sidney Kay Lion ... Sidney Armus

Less convincing are Josh Mostel and Steve Hofvendahl’s Shem and Ham, Mostel too much of a buffoon to be taken seriously as a striving businessman, Hofvendahl too much the lout and too little the rake to go over as a lothario. Lorraine Serabian has an apt sense of entitlement as Shem’s wife Leah, and Molly Scott is brassy as Goldie, the ark’s woman with a past (and she gets Theoni V. Aldredge’s funniest costume of the evening).

Best, however, in a pair of equally touching performances, are David Aaron Baker and Joanna Going, he as the headstrong Japheth — so repulsed by God’s plan he has to be conked to go on the ark — she as Rachel, Ham’s misused wife and the object of Japheth’s affection. (It all works out in the end.)

Ray Recht’s settings are tacky, though that impression owes in part to several pretty clunky changes, and Richard Nelson’s lighting is fine. The overall effect is modest, and how could it be otherwise, with such modest material?

Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for a rep company investigating works such as this, and for a loving couple of the theater to play a loving couple in the theater.

OFF BROADWAY

The Flowering Peach

(Lyceum Theater, New York; 870 seats; $ 47.50 top)

Production: A National Actors Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Clifford Odets. Directed by Martin Charnin.

Creative: Sets, Ray Recht; costumes, Theoni V. Aldredge; lighting, Richard Nelson; sound; Abe Jacob; original music, Keith Levenson; casting, Liz Woodman; production stage manager, SuzannePrueter; general manager, Niko Associates; press, Springer Associates; managing director, Fred Walker; executive producer, Manny Kladitis. Opened March 20, 1994, at the Lyceum Theater. Reviewed March 16; $ 47.50 top; 870 seats.

Cast: Noah ...Eli Wallach Esther ...Anne Jackson Japheth ... David Aaron Baker Shem ... Josh Mostel Ham ... Steve Hofvendahl Leah ... Lorraine Serabian Rachel ... Joanna Going Goldie ... Molly Scott Apocalypse, nu? In his last play, Clifford Odets recast the story of Noah and the flood as Jewish domestic comedy, Genesis by way of "The Goldbergs": Noah was an ancient tippler, his wife Esther a loving scold; eldest son Shem was a standard bearer for primogeniture, middle son Ham a layabout, youngest son Japheth a near-simpleton with a belligerent streak. The play opened late in December 1954 and had its moments of passion, insight and not a little regret. Some saw it as an allegory about nuclear annihilation, but there was another shadow over it, as well. The play came two years after Odets, having already removed himself from New York to Hollywood, named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was shocked to find himself shunned by former friends. Some speculated that "The Flowering Peach" was a response to that experience, both apologia and defense -- as when, with the great storm building furiously, Esther calls out, "The truth isn't the truth right now, it's a luxury." Whatever the case, the public didn't buy it then (the play closed after just five months) and they probably won't buy it now, though there is a real sweetness in Martin Charnin's revival, headlined by veterans Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, for the National Actors Theater. This is material with which Charnin is intimately familiar; he wrote the lyrics for "Two by Two," a 1970 musical based on the play, with music by an ailing Richard Rodgers and book by Peter Stone, and with Danny Kaye and Joan Copeland as the scrappy couple. With his head framed by flowing white wig and beard, Wallach looks every day of the 600 years old the Bible says Noah is when God tells him to begin preparing for the flood. Noah wants nothing of this detailed plan to build an ark, and his family suspects him of having lost his senses until God (actually, composer Keith Levenson) allows His presence to be known to all of them. Wallach moves gracefully and sometimes movingly between shtick and sentimentality, as one imagines Menasha Skulnick did in the original. (There's a funny moment when Wallach comes onstage, shorn of all the white stuff, showing off his sinewy arms and having dropped, oh, 400 years or so -- that echoes, in an odd way, Joe Boyd's transformation into Joe Hardy in the "Damn Yankees" revival across the street.) Wallach and Jackson both seem relaxed in these roles , one small step removed from Yiddish-theater comedy, and Charnin doesn't push. ORIGINAL PRODUCTION Producers Theater production of a comedy-drama in two acts (eight scenes) and epilogue, by Clifford Odets. Staged by the author; scenery, Mordecai Gorelik; lighting, Feder; costumes, Ballou; music, Alan Hovhaness; producer, Robert Whitehead. At Belasco, N.Y., Dec. 28, 1954; $ 5.75-$ 4.60 top ($ 6.90 opening). Noah ...Menasha Skulnik Esther ...Berta Gersten Japheth ... Mario Alcade Shem ... Martin Ritt Ham ... Leon Janney Leah ... Osna Palmer Rachel ... Janice Rule Goldie ... Barbara Baxley Strange Man ... Sidney Armus Fawns ... Marjorie Barrett, Patricia Fay Goat ... Barbara Kay Old Men ... Ludwig Roth, Sidney Kay Lion ... Sidney Armus

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