Walter Anderson’s Almost Home Is on Parade at the Acorn Theatre

If someone were to ask me the proverbial question, “Can you go home again?”  I would kindly reply, “Why yes.” But the real questions are home the same once you get there and are you the same person that left?  These themes are skillfully explored in Walter Anderson’s Almost Home, currently playing at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, located at 410 42nd Street.

3041Almost Home centers on Johnny Barnett, played by Jonny Orsini, a young marine returning home from Vietnam to his parents’ Bronx apartment.  No longer the good kid with a street edge, Jonny has trouble with coming to terms with events that happened in combat and his participation in it.  It is a parallel journey that has plagued his troubled, alcoholic father who served in World War II.  Uncertain about his future, Johnny has three roads he could take.  The first, accept the Marines offer to become a drill instructor.  The second is to go to college in California and the third is to become an internal affairs cop, an offer presented to him by the local police captain who wants to use Johnny’s hero status to his advantage. But before Johnny can  walk down the path of his destiny, he must first grapple with new and old demons that are creating roadblocks, namely his guilt over his best friend’s death in Vietnam, his poor relationship with his father and the police captain who has had his family under his thumb for years.  In the end Johnny makes peace with who he is and is free, in more ways than one, to choose the path he wants.

2896Playwright Walter Anderson crafts a sensitive tale about a boy coming into his manhood and creates the perfect balance of grace and the harsh realities of war and street life. With its autobiographical roots, Almost Home also is a coming home of sorts for Anderson.  Before becoming the editor of Parade Magazine for 20 years and the Chairman and CEO of Parade Publications, Anderson, a high school dropout, enlisted in the Marines attaining the rank of sergeant and serving in Vietnam.  During his time in the Marines, Anderson earned his GED.  Like Johnny, Anderson attended college after his discharge from the Marines attending Westchester Community College and Mercy College.

3045The cast of Almost Home bring you to the edge of your seat.  The audience becomes immediately enthralled with the complicated relationships between Johnny and his family and Captain Nick Pappas.  Neighbor Luisa Jones, Johnny’s elementary teacher, is a constant ray of hope that circles a cloud steeped in various shades of gray.  She, along with his mother, reminds Johnny that he is not limited by his circumstances or his past.  Johnny Barnett is played by Jonny Orsini.  I became familiar with Orsini when he appeared opposite Nathan Lane in The Nance.  I thought he was spectacular in that production and in Almost Home he is equally impressive.  James McCaffrey is masterful as the manipulative Nick Pappas.  His performance made me want to scream, “Where’s Serpico when you need him!”  Karen Ziemba and Joe Lisi bring heart and soul to the roles of Harry and Grace Barnett, and Brenda Pressley shimmers as the sassy teacher with a heart of gold.

3046The tension presented in Almost Home ends on an anticlimactic note, but the subtle ending is more realistic than some puffed out, melodramatic climax. It leaves the audience circling with questions about the future of Jonny and his family and a desire to want to see more, and leaving an audience salivating for more is never a bad thing.  If this show was part of the Bronx Bombers’ roster I would venture to say the boys in pinstripes would have no more worries.  Almost Home knocks it out of the theater. Anderson’s play is definitely a winner.

Photos: Carol Rosegg

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Top Five Reasons to See The Nance

The Nance opened April 15 at the Lyceum Theatre.  Starring Nathan Lane, Jonny Orsini, Lewis J. Stadlen, Cady Huffman, Jenni Barber and Andrea Burns, The Nance vividly paints the portrait of the world of burlesque at its zenith as well as the beginning of its demise.  After viewing this production, I can happily report that I wasn’t disappointed.  The Nance is witty, thought-provoking and one of the most complete shows I’ve seen this spring.  If you desire a night at the theatre that offers a little sex, lots of laughter and a provocative narrative, then I suggest you get down to the Lyceum Theatre and say, “Hi, simply hi,” to the ticket agent and get yourself a ticket to The Nance.  And just in case my word isn’t good enough, below are F.A.M.E NYC’s top five reasons to go see The Nance.   

productionphoto1.THENANCE Nathan Lane – Nathan Lane is a no stranger to the neon lights of Broadway.  In fact, with productions like Guys and Dolls, The Producers, The Odd Couple and The Addams Family under his belt, Lane is a veteran and a box office draw. In The Nance, he plays Chauncey Miles, a seasoned burlesque performer known for his flamboyant routine.  Chauncey’s high-pitched, double entendres and musical performances are a regular riot until the city decides to crackdown on the lowbrow environment the burlesque world entertains.  Chauncey, a republican, believes it is just political grandstanding until he reluctantly becomes the poster boy for free speech and subsequently for gay rights. Lane steps into the role of Chauncey as if he is placing his feet into the most comfortable pair of slippers.  It is made for him and highlights all the attributes that fans have come to love about watching Nathan Lane on stage or on film.  A true comedian, his timing is impeccable and his delivery of the material truly deserves the standing ovation given by the audience at the end of the show.  What Audrey Hepburn did for the character of Holly Golightly, I believe Lane has done for the character of Chauncey Miles.  He has given the role unmistakable life that will not easily be duplicated.

productionphoto3.THENANCEDouglas Carter Beane – With all the flowers, and some weeds, that sprouted on Broadway this spring, playwright Douglas Carter Beane has created a rare rose.  Beane not only offered audiences a peek into the world of burlesque, he also featured a glimpse of the New York City and the world pre-Stonewall and created a direct line to the issues the LGBT community still face in the 21st century with style and humor.   There is no part of this story that lags; it is a Babe Ruth home run out of the park. 

John Lee Beatty – When a production is running on all cylinders, the set design is a crucial element to its viability.   John Lee Beatty’s set design is as vital to The Nance as New York City is to Law and Order.  It is without a doubt the silent character.  His swiveling sets allow the actors to change scenes without switching gears and make the transition between The Irving Place Theatre and Chauncey’s apartment flawless.  The sets permit the audience to ride side-by-side with the cast on a journey back into time courtesy of Douglas Carter Beane’s wonderful script.

productionphoto4.THENANCEJonny Orsini – What a cutie pie!  He steams up the stage of the Lyceum Theatre with his nude scene and smile that can be seen in the last row of the balcony.  Orsini plays Ned, Chauncey’s younger, naive love interest.   Chauncey believes picking Ned up would only result in a one night love affair, but Ned’s tenderness uncovers another layer to Chauncey’s cynical New York veneer.  Orsini and Lane create authentic chemistry.

The members of Irving Place Theatre – Chauncey’s act at the Irving Place Theatre aren’t a one man show.  Members Efram, Sylvie, Joan and Carmen help to generate the laughs and raw emotion that make The Nance a smash.  The quirky show business family they produce made me want to hop out of my seat and join the circus.   

Individually, the parts of this production are great, but together The Nance explodes with emotive fervor.  It’s an instant classic!  I suggest meeting the cast around the corner of W. 45th Street and checking out a fantastic show.

Photos: Joan Marcus