Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 13, 2014
by Jennifer Curran
The production “June Moon” was the official start of the 2014 season on the Main Stage of Williamstown Theatre Festival. If the season didn’t open with fireworks, it did open with the legendary writers, Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman. Directed by Broadway’s Jessica Stone, the production was charming, scathing, warm, and hysterically funny at moments.
“June Moon” takes its audience back to 1929 and the heyday of Tin Pan Alley as the protagonist, the clueless and simple-minded Fred Stevens (quite lovable though infuriatingly insipid at times as portrayed by Nate Corddry) makes his way from Schenectady to the Big Apple. His dreams of becoming a famous lyricist are waylaid by various forms of temptation. In the train car he meets the lovely, but oh so safe, Edna Baker (Rachel Napoleon).
Fred joins up with the almost has-been songwriter Paul Sears soon after his arrival in the city. At their first meeting, Fred also meets Paul’s bored, but not as gutsy as she wants you to believe, wife Lucille (Kate Maccluggage) and her gold digging, scandalous for 1929 sister Eileen (Holley Fain).
“June Moon” is both an homage and criticism of the era of churning out ditties and excess of the pre-Depression lifestyle. The female characters are little more than archetypes, but they are pieces to the puzzle -- each woman doing what she can within the constraints of a political and social structure that allows for few options. Edna, upon her introduction to Fred, changes who she is with each sentence, so unsure of who her suitor wants her to be and so very eager to become a wife and mother. These types of roles for women have been long obsolete and thank goodness for that.
There are no truly sympathetic characters in this world, except perhaps for that of Maxie the piano player. In fact, they are so flawed, so selfishly drawn, it's hard not to enjoy watching them fall. Maxie (a truly terrific David Turner) is at once the sardonic truth speaker, the hit ‘em in the kisser with one-two punch jokes, but also the dark heart of this story. And dark it is, though the brilliance of the incredible set (Tobin Ost) and glittering costumes (Gregg Barnes) might want you to believe otherwise.
On the surface, the dresses were fabulous and the clubs were hopping, but there is a desperation running through every line; a longing to be seen, to be heard, and to be loved under a June Moon, even if it is October.