REVIEW WRITTEN BY ELLEN WILSON DILKS
For Digital First Media
Ambler’s Act II once again goes to the rich well of Bruce Graham plays to present “According To Goldman” at their Butler Avenue theatre. Directed by David Bradley, Graham’s witty send up of Hollywood runs through Oct. 11. The title of the piece comes from a famous quote by screenwriter William Goldman that in Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.”
Graham started writing during his time as a teacher in the Ridley School System, and has enjoyed tremendous success in Philadelphia and at theatres around the country with his unique works. In addition, he has written several screenplays and TV series; currently he serves as co-executive producer for the Hallmark Channel’s “Cedar Cove.” He drew on his experiences—twisting things around—to write this exceedingly clever and entertaining character study. A film buff’s delight, “According To Goldman” introduces the audience to Gavin Miller, a jaded and acerbic college professor who is teaching film writing at a university somewhere in the Northeast. The audience becomes his students as he explains the finer points of writing a script that will sell. (But, he points out, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good script.)
Also on hand are Gavin’s wife, Melanie, and an extremely introverted student named Jeremiah Collins. Melanie has been the one to handle all the pesky details of adult life, supporting her husband’s dreams. Jeremiah is a geeky, quirky outsider who can’t speak up in class; Gavin winds up working one-on-one with him. Initially, these two seem to be caught up in the whirlwind that is Gavin, but soon they emerge as intriguing, multi-faceted people you want to know more about.
Tony Braithwaite inhabits Gavin completely; clearly, his own years as a teacher help tremendously. He is also super adept at delivering Graham’s zingers. The fact that Braithwaite is an inherently likeable guy helps to keep Gavin from becoming annoying since the character thinks he’s way smarter than everyone else. Susan Riley Stevens is terrific as Melanie, portraying to perfection the role of a loving wife who is by no means a doormat. She shows us tremendous warmth and caring—and patience. But, Stevens also brings dignity and strength to Melanie. Luke Brahdt is impressive as Jeremiah. He totally nails geek—and then surprises the viewer as the character grows during his time with Gavin. Plus the kid can sing and dance!
Bradley’s direction is deft, pacing things nicely; he and his actors are not afraid to let the piece breathe when needed. Clearly, Bradley and his cast love Graham’s language, lines are delivered with a crispness that the script deserves. The action flows smoothly between Gavin’s classroom, his and Melanie’s living room, their garden and Jeremiah’s dorm room; credit goes to Colin McIlvaine for his well-designed set. Lily Fossner’s lighting invokes just the right atmosphere and mood for each scene, while Michael Hahn’s soundscape supports the play beautifully as well. Spot-on costumes have been created by Amanda Wolff, the perfect props come from Avista Custom Theatrical Services and Samantha Bellomo has choreographed a wonderful little bit at the end.
“According To Goldman” is one of those plays that has you laughing one minute, shocked the next and a little teary-eyed the next. Graham, as usual, has created fascinatingly flawed human beings that draw the viewer in as the story unfolds. It’s no wonder theatre companies continually produce his work. My companion and I were thoroughly entertained throughout the performance. I highly recommend taking the drive to Ambler.
IF YOU GO: Act II Playhouse is located at 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler. For directions, tickets and other information, either call (215) 654-0200 or visit www.act2.org