REVIEW WRITTEN BY FRANK BURD
For Digital First Media
I cannot begin to describe what an outstanding play “To the Moon” is. Produced by 1812 Productions, the “all comedy theatre company,” this new play, written by artistic director Jennifer Childs is not only funny, it is also smart, clever, and poignant. Inspired by the life and work of Jackie Gleason (the very subtitle of the play), it deals with a married couple in an apartment in New York- she a perfume sale person, he an actor aspiring to greatness — more or less living the life of Ralph and Alice Kramden characters from the original “Honeymooners” Tv show which starred Gleason and Audrey Meadows.
The story behind the play itself presented itself to Childs when she was approached a few years ago, by the son of the head writer for Gleason. When they met again, he also presented her with scripts that had that neverbeen produced. With the material, she created a man who resembled Gleason, who acted like Gleason, who even wanted to be Gleason to portray Scottie in this play within a play.
The man she chose to fill the shoes of this very large entertainer was none other than Scott Greer. Greer is also a big man. He recently played a 600-pound man in a production of “The Whale.” (He’s not that big — they padded him up). But Scott is one of the finest actors in the Philadelphia region and Gleason’s persona radiates through him. Whether making an off-handed joke or shouting, rolling his eyes or sliding his large body across the stage, he is amazing. And cast opposite him is another of my favorite actors, Anthony Lawton. Lawton doesn’t need to copy the Art Carney prototype. As he tries to find acting gigs for himself, he dons some outrageous costumes and plays the simpleton brilliantly and in a style that is perfectly matched to be the foil for Greer. Director Matt Pfeiffer rounds out the cast with two other incredibly talented and versatile actors, Tracie Higgins and Sean Roach.
The play jumps right out at you with such energy with a level of humor that seems to transcend tv and stage with it’s immediacy. Whether discussing his financial predicament with his wife or acting as a depressed patient for a myriad of doctors-to-be in a teaching setting, we see the dilemma this man faces, as he tries to be someone greater than who he is. His interactions with Lawton are masterful as they explore the world of acting and figuring out what to tell his wife. And the wonderful slapstick drinking scene is a riot!
One more thing. My parents didn’t always like the character Gleason portrayed. Kramden was an imperfect man, and in the TV of the 50’s, comedy was neat and sweet. This story is complex and powerful. It’s funny and it’s real. It’s a smashing success for Childs and the entire production team at 1812. It’s one of the best plays of the year and one with a future!
IF YOU GO: “To The Moon” continues through May 17. For more information, check www.1812productions.org or call (215) 592-9560.