RTC's 'Crossing Delancey': Big Hit At Fort Tilden Theater
This 1985 romantic comedy is a favorite of community theatre companies for more than one reason. There is a manageable cast of just five actors, and a simple, 3- part set where the action moves back and forth between the two worlds inhabited by the play’s heroine, Izzy. The play also provides an opportunity to showcase fine directorial skills, and Wotypka and his cast rise to the occasion with this new RTC production.
Izzy (Kim Simek), works in a bookstore on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where handsome, but self-absorbed, author Tyler Moss (Stephen Ryan) stops by frequently to check on sales of his books, feeding Izzy’s abundant daydreams of love and romance. The other world Izzy frequents is decidedly more lowbrow – she enjoys spending time on the Lower East Side in the kitchen of her charming “Bubbie,” or Jewish grandmother (Selma Kleinman). There, Izzy is regaled with Bubbie’s stories of courtship in the old days. If you have a grandmother you cherish now, or in memory, you will greatly enjoy this play.
In the center of the stage is a park bench, where some of the play’s other critical moments occur. Hannah (Susan Hartenstein), a card-carrying professional matchmaker steeped in the traditions of the past, tries to bridge the gap between the two worlds Izzy inhabits, by introducing her to Sam (Brad Crownover), a successful young neighborhood pickle vendor who also dabbles as a writer and visits the synagogue every morning. The banter between Hannah and Bubbie provides the comedy here; Izzy’s growing affection for Sam adds the romance.
All of the actors perform admirably. Kleinman and Hartenstein do a good job of conjuring up the yentas of the Lower East Side. These roles will rotate in this weekend’s performances, to RTC veterans Janet Miserandino and Catherine McEntee, respectively. The male roles are filled by attractive newcomers to RTC, Crownover and Ryan, who are both quite compelling. Sam’s down-to-earth charm came through, just as surely as Tyler’s sexy, sleazy, superficiality.
Kim Simek must do the heavy dramatic lifting here, as the resolution of her character’s conflict is central to the plot. The true test of success with this short play is whether the audience will care about “Izzy’s Choice,” so to speak. Simek creates a character who is ditzy and dreamy at first, obviously enthralled with the world of the Upper East Side literati. She’s so good at conveying Uptown Izzy, in fact, that I’d love to see RTC stage the sequel in which Izzy and Tyler get together for some misguided romantic hijinks.
But then, we see Crownover as Sam (and he manages to convey the poet as well as the pickle vendor very well), trying to win Izzy’s heart. Sensing how enamored she is with her uptown life, Sam encourages Izzy to “try on a new hat,” both figuratively and literally. The lovely hat he sends her as a gift after their first meeting becomes symbolic of the choice she must make by the play’s end. I was really rooting for Sam and hoping that Izzy would not reject him in favor of Tyler.
Having seen the stellar 1988 screen version (with Amy Irving and Peter Riegert) many times, I knew where things would end up. But the play is very different from the movie, and I found myself experiencing the story in a completely new way.
In the film version, the romance between Izzy and Sam dominates. On the stage, the comedic dialogue between Hannah and Bubbie is more important. You may want to brush up on your Yiddish in advance; the play goes pretty deep into the lexicon on a few occasions.
I have not seen other productions of this play, but I think it must be hard to stage it in a venue as big as the Post Theater. If you want to catch all of the lines (including the very funny, muttered asides of Bubbie and Hannah that occur throughout their scenes), be sure to get a seat near the front. So much of the humor of this play is in the small mannerisms and comments – you don’t want to miss a thing! The scene where Bubbie opens the package containing the hat, being careful to save every scrap of paper and string (“you can use it again,” she instructs Izzy), is priceless. For me, it brought to life the character traits of frugal, working-class immigrants, regardless of ethnic background, the ones who never got caught up in the mores of this land of plenty. The scene may just as easily remind you of an Italian or Polish grandmother as a Jewish one.
There are only five performances remaining: Friday, August 26 and Saturday August 27 at 8 p.m., Sunday, August 28 at 2 p.m., and Friday, September 9 and Saturday, September 10 at 8 p.m. There are no shows the first weekend of September, as the theatre will be closed in observance of Labor Day, and no matinee on the last weekend due to the anniversary of 9/11. Tickets are available online at www.rockawaytheatrecompany- .org, or by calling 718-374-6400.