Review: Central Park West (Sterling Studio Theatre)

Sterling Studio Theatre in Toronto brings a Woody Allen classic, Central Park West, to their May One Acts

Woody Allen’s Central Park West isn’t so much about people and the things that happen to them as it’s about the idea of how funny and awful they can be. Those familiar with Allen will find all his trademark obsessions here: New York socialites, neurotic rambling, and—my favourites—the unforgiving cosmos and the terror of existence.

I have a fondness for much of Allen’s earlier work, but not for this particular one-act. I did, however, generally enjoy Sterling Studio’s production, which plays for the second week of their May One Acts.

It all starts with Carol frantically rapping at Phyllis’ apartment door, demanding to be let in. In the comedic whirlwind that follows, we learn that Carol is having an affair with Phyllis’ husband (Sam). Then both of their husbands arrive (Sam and Howard). And Sam’s new lover (Juliet) who’s half his age. There is drinking, smoking and finger pointing. Infidelities and insecurities are revealed; marriages and friendships are laid to waste. No one is safe, not even the furniture.

I would have liked to see a few more details in the set dressing to indicate the upscale lifestyle of these characters, but the set is functional as a place setting for clever banter. Under Taryn Jorgenson’s direction, the focus is clearly on the dialogue and posturing. Subtlety is downplayed in favor of high concept, situational comedy. This is, of course, what the script calls for.

The dialogue is snarky, but not as charming or perceptive as Allen can be. However, once all five of the characters are on stage—and the gun appears!—the situation becomes increasingly ludicrous and the play becomes straight-up farce. The spectacle of these final moments sort of won me over.

These are well-to-do professionals whose lifestyle affords them the luxury of indulging their appetites with philandering and petty rivalries. I didn’t feel that any of them care about each other or their relationships other than as prizes to obtain or discard. As people, I find them obnoxious, but I can understand their appeal as a set-up for a comedy of manners.

And I enjoyed the comic timing of this fine ensemble cast—Jessica Huras, Chloe Sullivan, Stefne Mercedes, Andrew Anthony, and Noah Davis. Without being too cartoonish, they maintain an appropriately screwball intensity. There isn’t much complexity here (in the material), but there is some great personality clashing and colourful body language.

The pacing is always upbeat and the staging is dynamic. Every inch of the stage is used to its fullest advantage. Their antics take these characters in and out the door, over the furniture… as knockabout comedy, it’s got pizazz.

I wouldn’t consider this a dark comedy; it’s not edgy enough. Relationships deteriorate and animosity abounds, but everything seems trivial… and mean. Mean-spirited humour isn’t something I find much fun, but it appeals to many. If you like slick, urbanite melodrama, Central Park West delivers the goods.

And there is a lovely opening act! Cat and the Queen swept me right off my feet with her quirky and charming persona. Her songs are giddy yet bittersweet. Above all else, she knows how to work the crowd, even while specifically drawing attention to the gimmick. She’s a real treat; you should check her out!

On the whole, it’s a fun night.

Details:

  • Central Park West plays at the Sterling Studio Theatre (163 Sterling Rd) until May 18.
  • Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 8PM, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2PM.
  • Tickets are $20, Pay What You Can on the Saturday and Sunday matinees.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or at the door

Photo of Jessica Huras and Stefne Mercedes by Angela Besharah (Inside Light Studio).

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