To close its season, Yale Repertory Theater presents the first production of the original 1928 script of Dawn Powell’s social satire “Big Night.” A different version of the play, produced by the Group Theater, closed after seven performances on Broadway in 1933. Powell called that production “heavy-footed,” but the new staging suggests it may be the play itself that fits her description.
The play depicts an all-night party from hell in the Manhattan apartment of a young couple, Ed and Myra Bonney. Ed, who is in advertising, wants Myra to be “nice” to the guest of honor, Bert Jones, who owns a chain of dress shops in Chicago.
Myra, already deeply unhappy and angry with her life, is incensed because several years earlier she had to reject Jones’ clumsy advances when she was a model at a New York manufacturer’s showroom. Jones arrives at the party more than a little tight, and things rapidly go from bad to worse. Ultimately, Myra goes off to a new life in Chicago with Jones, who swears he always wanted to marry her, not merely bed her.
The play is too shrill and relentless, as is director Stan Wojewodski Jr.’s vehemently loud and fast production. A lighter, more subtle approach would be an improvement.
Katie MacNichol’s Myra (a role created in 1933 by Stella Adler) gives play and production a raison d’etre. She may stress one note — angry disillusionment — but she does so with fiercely committed skill in a perf that seems intentionally to echo Sylvia Sidney.
Jay Patterson, as Jones, must play drunk much of the time, though he does so with style. Matthew Mabe’s Ed vividly projects the desperate go-getting qualities of a Madison Avenue man. And within the limitations of the dumb-blonde cliche, a breathless Jennifer Frankel is amusing as the floozy upstairs.
Stuart Polasky’s set and Tammy Elizabeth McBride’s costumes capture the period with flair. And the use of an old recording of pop song “The Best Things in Life Are Free” as the production’s overture is a neatly ironic comment on the play’s money-obsessed characters.