A nostalgic look at a bygone era, Michael Elias’ “The Catskill Sonata” is a pleasant and comfortable piece of theater, much like a well-wrought sitcom. The writing is witty, the many characters incisively drawn. The comedic elements succeed more than the dramatic undercurrents, but this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the play. The Hayworth Theater’s world premiere, smoothly helmed by film director Paul Mazursky, is a thoroughly polished production, boasting a strong cast and a vibrantly charismatic lead perf by the excellent Kip Gilman.
The story takes place in a Catskills resort in the late 1950s, where TV writer Dave (Gilman) resides as sardonic jester-in-residence. It’s the last day before the summer tourist season starts; resort owner Anne Rosen (Lisa Robins) is mulling over a marriage proposal from the business-minded Leo (Zack Norman), which would provide her security but lose her the resort.
Dave is trying to renew a romantic relationship with blacklisted concert pianist Rae (Lisa Chess), while young worker Irwin (Daryl Sabara) is hopelessly enamored of serious teenage musician Nancy (Kate James).
Gilman’s portrayal is assured and layered, effortlessly charming yet clearly revealing the cracks in Dave’s facade. Chess must confront some of the heavier elements of the piece, which unfortunately feel shoehorned in, but she manages with skill and emotional clarity.
Robins is memorable as a woman who can see the end of her dreams fast approaching, and Norman is bluntly powerful as the pushy Leo. James is thoroughly credible as the ambitious Nancy, but Sabara is a bit uneven as Irwin.
Desma Murphy’s woodsy hotel patio set is so completely realized one could take a vacation in it, adding enormously to the production.