Review: Driftwood Players and director Paul Fouhy bring it home for “Proposals”

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Ryan St. Martin
Ryan St. Martin gets the Artfully Edmonds Tony Award for his portrayal of “Vinnie” in Neil Simon’s production, Proposals. Now playing at Wade James Theatre, 950 Main St. (Photo courtesy TPS)

Opening night at the Wade James Theatre on Friday introduced Edmonds’ audiences to one of the most talented fresh thespians we’ve seen this season – Ryan St. Martin.

Cast in the Driftwood Players presentation of Neil Simon’s “Proposals,” directed by Paul Fouhy, St. Martin drew enthusiastic applause, hearty laughter and sincere admiration for his portrayal of Florida-based mob-inspired Vinnie Bavasi. Bavasi is the type of character who packs a gun to a fishing expedition – and then brags about the absurd outcome over lemonade and cucumber sandwiches.

If the Driftwood Players does anything during the two-week run of “Proposals” to promote the production, we hope it’s a video of St. Martin’s perfected ‘boyfriend walk’ with the shuffle, the shoulder “lead” and the “firing-at-you” hand gestures. Without fail, the air-gun pantomime to emphasize Vinnie’s logic-challenged points threw the audience into gales of laughter throughout the opening night performance.

Catching up to St. Martin after the play, My Edmonds News learned that the actor was eager to take direction from Paul Fouhy in order to develop a generalized stereotype of an East Coast tough guy.

“There is a definite distinction between the speech patterns of New York Queens’ natives and, say, guys from Brooklyn,” he explained. “By contrast I wanted to develop a generalized character profile who was a blend of all of the personality and style stereotypes of [tough guys] from New York without compromising any one borough” or odd-ball character.

In Simon’s production, the Bavasi family (which includes off-stage Uncle Georgio and Aunt Maria) have all migrated from New York to Florida, bringing with them creative misspeaks and gun-‘em-down modi operandi of solving problems. In portraying Vinnie, St. Martin mastered Simon’s lines, which included such ridiculous tongue twisters as “cuttle-ary” for cutlery; “unique-wally” for unique, adding syllables in the mistaken notion that longer words mean smarter words; and “hu-man-able” for the word humanity – all delivered with hilarious results.

Artfully Edmonds appreciated St. Martin’s diction and delivery skills, which allowed for a full comprehension (i.e. translation time) of Vinnie’s lines.

Paul Fouhy and Ryan St. Martin make for a watch-list director/actor team.

For this production, the Artfully Edmonds Tony Award goes to Ryan St. Martin for his character acting of a New York transplant visiting the Pennsylvania Poconos from his family’s home in Miami.

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A nod for excellence also goes out to Cynthia King, who portrayed (with exceptional stage presence) the playwright’s “Clemma.” Driftwood’s program informs theatregoers that King “has been acting most of her life.” It shows.

In her role as Greek Chorus to the Hines’ family dysfunction, Clemma holds together a family that has broken apart from the strain of loss of boundaries, workaholic-ism, and the perception of betrayals of trust. Just as importantly she guides “Josie” (played by Jana Gueck) through a love triangle with competing swains “Kenny” (Spencer Stromberg) and “Ray” (Joel Ambo).

But Clemma has problems of her own when her errant husband reappears after a seven-year absence. King’s delivery of such lines as, “I ain’t God’s unemployment bureau,” when her husband returns unemployed – or “I don’t wake up for something going right,” when she explains that she’s been awakened because she feels that something is wrong, caused an all-knowing ripple of laughter. King delivers for the Driftwood Players – big time.

In fact, this is a production that is best taken apart and examined on its parts: Individual cast members, wardrobe and style choices, sound design, and staging should be evaluated on their separate merits. “Proposals” as showcased by Driftwood Players under Fouhy (Driftwood’s “Steel Magnolias”) is a wonderful community theatre production. There are elements that are superior stand-outs but also production questions.

It is Neil Simon’s fault that heroine “Josie” lacks the fashion sense and carriage that might convince audiences that she deserves the role of a sought-after sweetheart. In clips of the production I have seen Josie in ragged cut-offs, wrinkled pedal pushers and the like. It seemed a reach that both Kenny and Ray couldn’t go on without her almost-tomboy demeanor.

In awarding the role of “Josie” to Jana Gueck, director Fouhy surely considered her impressive resume of on-stage credits from Tacoma Little Theatre, STAGEright Theatre and a BA in Theatre Arts from Western Washington University. Gueck handles her lines as a young woman hurt by her parent’s estrangement and divorce; confused by loyalties and tangled betrayals with convincing skill.

While Ambo brings in a very strong performance and has the “chops” (with performance experience from UCLA), we didn’t feel a convincing connection between Ray and Josie.

Ambo’s experience and skill playing off the other actors is so evident that we expect him to be ‘the director’s choice’ in many upcoming casting calls.

Nicholas Horiatis, who plays “Burt” (Josie’s father), won many hearts as the over-protective dad whose flaw is his penchant for eavesdropping: A trait that fosters countless funny lines throughout the production. Audience admiration of Horiatis was well deserved.

These cast members are ably supported by troupe members Anthony Floyd (Lewis, Clemma’s errant husband); Molly Hall (Annie, the mother to Josie) and Laura McFarlane (Sammii, the girl who walks off stage on Vinnie’s arm).

Recent high school graduate Spencer Stromberg, who plays “Kenny,” brings a strong introductory performance to the Wade James stage. Following the call of his stage aspirations (via the University of Washington curriculum of musical theatre), Stromberg is a rising star to watch.

Artfully Edmonds gives high marks for individual portrayals and set design – you’ll want to get your tickets now because Artfully Edmonds expects that (as Vinnie Bavasi steals the show) “Proposals”  will enjoy many full-house performances through its run, which ends Sunday, March 6 .

— by Emily Hill

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