By Arlene McKanic
A director has to walk a fine line when helming a production of Tom Griffin’s “Amateurs.” Go too far one way and it’s maudlin — there’s mention of a dead kid; go too far the other way and it’s a farce full of deeply unlikable and incomprehensible people. Parkside Players’ production, directed by the canny Nick Radu, gets the balance just about right.
The story takes place at the home of Dorothy (a wonderfully warm and compassionate Malini Singh McDonald) and her husband Charlie (Mike Miller) after the opening night of a play put on by a community theater. Their guests are Dorothy’s shy and lonely co-worker Nathan (and his Howdy Doody dummy Horace), the sarcastic Wayne Seabury, the ambitious, slinky and toothy Jennifer Collins and the troubled Chilmarks.
Like Dorothy and her husband, Irene Chilmark is normal, while her husband Ernie makes his entrance barking like a seal, with a wastebasket over his head. Also popping in for a moment is Mona, the communal friend with boyfriend problems, and Paul Cortland, the professorial and dapper (at one point the reviewer thought he was wearing spats) critic.
The actors are brilliant at keeping the audience with them, as most of them, especially the men, aren’t particularly cuddly. The great Richard Weyhausen plays Nathan with that sort of pathos that can sometimes induce cruelty; we like him because Dorothy likes him and because of Weyhausen’s mastery.
Charlie, too, is annoying as he constantly, needlessly, maddeningly brings chair after chair to the party till people can hardly move around. Then you find out the reason why he’s the way he is.
Paul Robilotto revels in Ernie’s repulsiveness, though he’s capable of a bit of remorse in the end. Peter Sullivan’s Paul is his opposite — sometimes he and Dorothy seem the only grown-ups in the room.
Johnny Culver skillfully plays Wayne as a borderline jerk, and Jenna Kantor is engaging as Jennifer, whose flinty, good-time girl exterior hides her warm heart and loneliness — you hope that she gets what she wants in the end.
Crystalla Gonzalez and Laura S. Packer are also good as Mona and Irene. Gonzalez especially gives weight and humanity to a character whose purpose we’re not quite sure of.
Steven Callahan’s exquisite scenic design and Glen Rivano’s lighting and sound add to the overall pleasure of the play. The action takes place entirely in Dorothy’s beautiful but welcoming living room, which says much about her, if not her sad and pixilated husband. Even her dress, thanks to costumers Shannon Fleischman and Kris Nee, is just right. Beautifully draped, silky and red as the reddest rose, the dress makes it impossible for you to take your eyes off of Dorothy whenever she’s in a scene. She’s literally the heart of the play, the character who pulls everything together, around whom everything revolves.
If You Go
When: Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through March 5
Where: Grace Lutheran Church, 103-15 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills
Cost: $14 / $12 for seniors
Contact: (718) 497-4922 email@example.com
Web site: parksideplayers.com