Play: “Treading Backwards Thru Quicksand (Without Wearing Your Water Wings)”
Group: Black Cat Theatre
Venue: Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton Avenue
Dates: November 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20
Tickets: $20-$25; contact 314-781-8300 or www.blackcattheatre.org
Story: Mattie pays a visit to longtime friend Sophie with some distressing news: She suspects her husband Frank is having an affair. In fact, she spied Frank doing the dirty deed with a fetching lass at his deli in Queens. What is she to do about her predicament, she asks Sophie? She’s been married for 22 years and, at 50, feels that she’s already over the hill for any new romantic possibilities. Sophie, however, thinks differently. Recently widowed herself, she encourages Mattie to divorce a man Sophie never really liked anyway and get on with her life.
For her part, though, Sophie seems ensnared by a past that includes the spirit of her late husband, Bernie, who apparently has settled back into his old ‘haunts,’ so to speak, and who still converses frequently with his widow. While Sophie encourages Mattie to follow her heart and hook up with a dashing young Irish actor, Mattie nudges her friend toward a new relationship with a wealthy Texan who has eyes for the matronly Jewish woman.
Highlights: Black Cat Theatre has converted an old grocery store and enlivened it into a comfortable, relaxed setting for live shows. They’ve presented an intriguing interpretation of a Pinter play (“The Birthday Party”) and a top-notch, seldom-seen drama (“Two Headed”) along with cabaret and musical performances. The current mainstage season will offer a work by Alan Ayckbourn as well as a previously seen touring production of a modest effort called “Queen of Bingo.”
Black Cat also is producing this world premiere effort by playwright Sandra Marie Vago, a work that will soon be published by Samuel French. There are many polished professional aspects that contribute to this presentation, from direction by Wayne Loui to the smooth work of veteran performers Amy Loui as Mattie, Edie Avioli as Sophie, Scott Sears as Bernie and Christopher Hickey as Danny McGuire, to a set design by Dunsi Dai that utilizes a New York City backdrop and Sophie’s high-rise apartment balcony to provide a satisfactory time and place for the story, with add-on features at stage right for additional scenes.
Other Info: None of this, however, can make up for a script that is long on lazy writing and strained plot development and short on genuine character interplay. Sophie spouts seemingly every Jewish cliché and sounds more like someone from her grandmother’s generation than a 50ish woman in 2010 Gotham. It doesn’t help when her late husband makes an appearance in garb right out of “Mad Men,” which is set in the early 1960s, even though Bernie died just a year prior to the story. Bonnie Kruger’s costumes for Bernie and the other characters are OK, as is Sean Savoie’s lighting and Mike Silverman’s original jazz score, but the story just doesn’t work. It seems to be striving for a future as a Lifetime Movie Channel entry, but would need considerable improvement for that as well.
Truth be told, the audience at last week’s Sunday matinee seemed to enjoy themselves and the presentation, a reflection of the best efforts of the talented and capable cast. Seems to me, though, that Sophie, Mattie and Sandra all have been engulfed by that deadly title morass.
Rating: A 2.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.