Cameron Kelsall: Joshua Ravetch’s One November Yankee, now onstage at Delaware Theatre Company prior to an Off-Broadway run, harkens back to the star-driven well-made plays that dominated Broadway and regional theaters in decades past. I mean that as a compliment. In fact, I can hardly think of another local production in recent memory that packed as much unalloyed pleasure into eighty minutes as this relaxed, clever comedy, which shows off Hollywood stalwarts Harry Hamlin and Stefanie Powers at their considerable best.
David Fox: I agree wholeheartedly, and I’m especially happy that you felt that way. I have the sense that One November Yankee is the kind of play that’s easily dismissed as bourgeois entertainment. Well, I’ve recently seen several self-consciously “important” plays—Linda Vista, Heroes of the Fourth Turning, A Small Fire, and The Sound Inside—and I found all of them unsatisfying, and in several cases, even actively annoying. What a pleasure it was to encounter something simple and unpretentious that instead delivered good storytelling and a sweet sense of character and events. I’ll take that any day.
CK: One November Yankee certainly doesn’t set out to answer the big questions of the universe, but it would be a mistake (and an oversimplification) to call it lightweight. In fact, playwright Ravetch (who also directs) leans into one of the most enduring themes in modern theater: the brother-sister dynamic. Hamlin and Powers play three sets of middle-aged siblings, convincingly changing their manner and appearance for each. (The production benefits from excellent costumes by Kate Bergh.) And without giving too much away about the proceedings, Ravetch also considers the American relationship to aviation, both in concept and in practice.
DF: The brother-sister relationships were among the most winning things about the show, I thought—fresher and more surprising than the predictable married couple set-up I had expected. As for the multiple roles, it reminded me in a way of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, another play constructed for two actors to play three roles each (in that case, married couples). I think it’s often a very pleasurable construct for audiences—but of course, only when the actors are up to it. We’ll have a chance to see Plaza Suite again next year on Broadway, and can judge then how Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker do with it. Certainly, here Hamlin and Powers dispatch their roles with all the charm and skill you could hope for.
CK: Hamlin and Powers both started their careers onstage, and the ease with which they transition back into live performance is admirable. Each sibling pair is nicely individuated, and the duo transition seamlessly between stylish star acting and real emotional connection. Without giving too much away, I found them both especially effective in the play’s third vignette, where they play the most estranged and troubled characters, who never really got out from under a shattering family tragedy that happened several decades earlier. The actors totally stripped themselves of artifice, and the journey toward reconciliation felt painfully real.
DF: Picking up on two things here—one is that I agree that both Hamlin and Powers seem absolutely comfortable on the stage, including easily projecting their performances into the space. I’m also glad you mention “star acting,” because I think that’s an important element of this show (as it is in Plaza Suite). It’s a special kind of acting, one where on the one hand you want to see the skills it takes to create different sets of characters—but at the same time, you want to be aware at least subtly of the actors’ own personae. And I think these two manage both sides of that with exceptional skill and grace.
CK: I agree. It’s an element of style that can’t be taught or bought, and they both have it in spades. What they also have is an undeniable sense of glamour.
DF: And let’s face it… part of that glamour is how fabulous both of them look. Normally it would be ungallant to point out their ages, but under the circumstances, the fact that Hamlin is 68 and Powers is 76 is practically unbelievable. I fell in love with her when she was on TV in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. I was 12 years old, and she was an adult. So, how can she look 10 years younger now than I do??
CK: I’m not going to touch that question, David. But I will say that, as a younger person, I do love to see plays that honestly center older performers and that have nothing to do with disease or the gradual loss of faculties. Check and check here. And I would be remiss not to say that the production itself, with a great set by Dana Moran Williams that serves every part of the story, looks as fabulous as the stars.
DF: Indeed. This was, for me, the happiest surprise of recent theater going, and when I say “surprise,” I’m going to own my snooty expectations that One November Yankee would likely not be first-rate. Well, all I can say is see it for yourselves. (And luckily, you’ll have a couple of opportunities, since it moves soon to New York.)