The Fantasticks is a light delight, sweet enough for the softest tooth in Cambridge. The musical is generally described as whimsy, but it is more than that: it is willful whimsy, the tale of two young lovers in the silly season of spring, and then in the sober season of cynicism. Both moods are deliciously portrayed by seven actors and one actress in the Adams House Drama Society production of The Fantasticks, which began its two weekend run last night.
The play opens on Michael Bell's simple platform stage; the time is daytime, but the mood is moonlight. For fully half an act the five primary characters are introduced; each with his idiosyncracy, each with his song.
First, Harry Smith appears as the Narrator (some will call him a villain, some will call him God). Seductive and compassionate, Smith jokes with his audience and plays with his fellows on the stage. His song sets the score: "Try to Remember, those days in September when Grass was Green and grain was yellow." It is a season of moonlight and magic; and no one is so entranced as young lovers.
The lovers are, we are told, Romantics: "They try to memorize the moon." Not inappropriately for an allegory, they are named "the boy" and "the girl." Sydne Kalet is fully believable as the charming 16 year old girl, though occasionally a more mature voice and graceful style would have suited her role. As for the young lad (Dean Stolber), he is "grown up and stable and willing to conform"; but he is in love and life is a poem.
Now the plot comes clear. The boy and girl are in love because their love is forbidden; their feuding fathers have constructed a wall between their homes. But the fathers are no fools. They know that youths are rebels and will want what is denied them. In "Never Say No" the girl's father (Ron Lockhart) and the boy's father (Stephen Cotler) hilariously reveal the devilish ways of adults; they have contrived the feud and constructed the wall to make sure that their children will fall in love.
Now the action begins. Boy must get girl, lose girl, and get her back; or, in the metaphor of the play, the wall must be destroyed, be reconstructed, and finally be surmounted. To end the feud and crush the wall, the hire the Narrator, who is now a "Professional Abductor" known as El Gallo (he carries a card). The rape is a grand success (that is, it is a magnificent failure) and the act closes with the wall dismantled, and the families united in bliss, apparently about to live happily ever after.
But no. When the second act begins, sunlight has replaced the moon, everyone is cranky and bored. Songs in a jazz tempo replace the ballads of the first act. Everyone's nerve ends are exposed in the superbly done number "This Plum Is Too Ripe," which has few words and punctuates its gripes with "Sorry." And the wall is built a new (this time it is a wall of bricks and not of fancy) while the boy and the girl turn to the "real" world, she to an affair and he to the open road.
But, of course, in "life" they are disillusioned. When they meet again (a month later) they are ready to surmount the wall, to meet life on its own terms.
Peter Skolnik has staged a clever and well-placed version of The Fantasticks. The actors remove themselves from the story to joke with each other and with the audience; yet Skolnik has coached them to make a flawless transition from portrayers to portrayed. And he has succeeded in making dewy, sentimental lines like "my bride will dress in sunlight with rain for her wedding veil" sound plausible. He has skillfully used the mute (Lorenzo Weisman) in his various roles as a wall, a tree, a bricklaver, and nature.
Dean Stolber is a superb actor and singer, easily the most impressive performer on the stage. The best humor comes from Stephen Cotler and Ron Lockhart as the fathers who are at moments uproarious and at moments moving. Also Larry Fineberg steals some scenes with his extremely funny portrayal of an old actor who, along with his sidekick (Joseph Ingelfinger), helps El Gallo stage the Rape.
It has been said of The Fantasticks that "if you like that sort of thing, it's the sort of thing you'll like." If you like that sort of thing, the Adams House production of The Fantasticks is the sort of thing you'll love.