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Theater Reviews : Majority Can't Rescue 'One'

March 22, 1995|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — When Leonard Spigelgas' "A Majority of One" opened on Broadway in the late '50s, Sir Cedric Hardwicke was cast as the Japanese tycoon, Mr. Asano. There are too many Asian actors around today for a similar error in judgment to be made.

Nevertheless, in director Herman Boodman's staging of the play at the Ensemble Theatre, he has persisted in casting a Caucasian in the role. Tony Grande is solid as Asano, in the emotional tenderness and Eastern sense of humor required, and the sense of exciting, late-blooming romance that fires Asano's persona. But to today's ears he sounds an awful lot like Charlie Chan.

That's not the only flaw in Boodman's production.

The decision to use a supposedly Eastern style--with boxes for furnishings and props and two black-clad bunraku (stagehands) to move the boxes and props--is perverse. To begin with, all the actors move things around during changes, which makes the bunraku look like nothing more than a couple of matrons in cute black caps on their way to aerobics class.

One of them, Judy Kirby, does put on a dress to play Mrs. Josie Green, the neighbor and confidant of the central figure, Mrs. Bertha Jacoby, played by Patricia Woodhull. Kirby doesn't seem very Jewish, which she should, but her reticence looks wise in contrast with Woodhull's lackluster performance.

*

Not only is Woodhull unsure of her lines, she has no conception of the meaning of the Yiddish-flavored humor that makes Mrs. Jacoby's dialogue such a delight. Her Jewish accent is low- schmaltz chicken soup, and her sense of elegance is at complete odds with the homespun qualities that help Mrs. Jacoby avert a trade conference disaster in Tokyo, save her son-in-law's career and entrance the quiet but anxious Mr. Asano.

The only actor with any sense of the spirit and bounce required of this 1959 Gertrude Berg vehicle is Richard June as the son-in-law. Valerie Martin as Mrs. Jacoby's daughter is stiff and keeps looking at the audience. Shirley Arconti and Rick Macht appear in small roles.

* "A Majority of One," Ensemble Theatre, 844 E. Lincoln Ave., Suite E, Orange. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Ends April 1. $12-$15. (714) 998-2670. Running time: 2 hours.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Patricia Woodhull: Mrs. Bertha Jacoby

Tony Grande: Mr. Asano

Judy Kirby: Mrs. Josie Green

Valerie Martin: Alice Black

Richard June: Jerry Black

Shirley Arconti: Mrs. Ayako

Rick Macht: Detective Norcross

An Ensemble Theatre production of Irving Spigelgas' comedy, produced by Roosevelt Blankenship Jr., directed by Herman Boodman. Scenic design: Herman Boodman. Sound design-stage manager: James Mongell.

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