One Thirty Productions has a real knack for finding and producing lesser-known theatrical gems. It’s that wee, spunky theatre company tucked into an odd corner of the Bath House Cultural Center and managed by a tight-knit, congenial group of professional artists with at least 200 years’ worth of genuine theatrical knowledge and experience between them. They aren’t flashy, just stage-worthy, and always play at 1:30pm to mostly full houses.
Their current production, The Housekeeper, one such obscure gem that runs through March 26, presents a mystery. James Prideaux, with no bio in the program, wrote it. A fast-paced comic romp with two eccentric, charming characters in total yin/yang opposition and a tasty resolve at fini, it offers some of the best written light comic dialogue, non-stop, this side of Neil Simon. Took some digging, but here’s the scoop: James Prideaux was born in 1935 in South Bend, Indiana. He was a writer for CBS’ “Secret Storm” and a regular magazine contributor. He was the winner of the New York Drama Desk Award as “The Most Promising Playwright” in 1972-73. Aha! He wrote lots of plays and screen plays, which no one seems to produce lately. He worked extensively with people considered to be “power” actresses: Dame Judith Anderson: “bigger than life”; Geraldine Page: “the one true genius, absolute magic”; Elizabeth Taylor; Julie Harris; Meryl Streep. He had a 25-year working relationship, writing for Katherine Hepburn. When asked about being a “woman’s writer, he supposedly responded: “Don’t classify me as a woman’s writer. Don’t forget ‘Lyndon.’ It’s still out there, my one-man play about the former President.” Everybody recognizes that one, sir.
I could almost hear Hepburn’s dry cackle tossing off female character Annie Dankworth’s incorrigible zingers in The Housekeeper, even before learning about Prideaux’s Hepburn connection. She’d have been a hoot in the role. As it sits at the Bath House Cultural Center, veteran comic actress and One Thirty Productions’ co-founder Gene Ray Price blesses Annie with as much unglamorous wackiness and wry comic mastery as the role calls for. Described by the play’s male character Manly as “cunning as a puff adder”, Annie has to be played as manipulative and aggressive yet still worthy of holding audience sympathy. Price never misses a well-calculated beat or a delicious opportunity to twist the self-righteous, pompous Manly into unforgiving, well-deserved knots. Veteran film and stage actor Cliff Stephens provides Price with the perfect target in Manly, without turning him into a whining stereotype of a prudish prig bachelor with an underlying “dark streak”. Noel Coward, master of creating effete clowns, would cheer with delight at Stephens’ measured portrayal of the badly outgunned Manly, struggling mightily to maintain pretentious decorum while sliding unglamorously off a romantic cliff. No surprise to know where it’s headed, so much fun to watch these pros take it there. Solidly directed from a natural-feeling thrust perspective by One Thirty Productions’ producer Marty Van Kleeck. Set design by Van Kleeck with lights by James Gregory, sound by Graeme Bice and costumes by Illusions add cozy finish without clutter. It’s a spic and span gem of a play, sure to elicit spontaneous chuckles and guffaws. And wouldn’t that be a welcome feeling?
James Prideaux’s The Housekeeper runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 1:30pm, through March 26. www.bathhousecultural.com 214-532-1709
Facts and anecdotes about James Prideaux gleaned from articles in the NY Times, The Pocono Record and December 03, 1992 LA Times. Hope they are correct.