Look Homeward, Angel has been an acclaimed play in the past, winning the 1958 Pulitzer Prize. Ketti Frings judiciously adapted Thomas Wolfe's semi-autobiographical novel into a moving family drama about the Gants, a family living in Altamont, North Carolina. Eliza Gant (Gina Stahlnecker) runs Dixieland Boarding House, using her family as unpaid labor, while constantly fighting with her husband W.O. (Jim Broaddus) who maintains a living carving gravestones. Meanwhile oldest son Ben (Adam Dodway) has weak lungs and has taken up with a boarder named Mrs. Pert (Mindy Luce), while son Eugene (Keegan McDonald) has literary aspirations and has his sexual coming-of-age with an attractive new boarder Laura (Kristin Patton).
This is the sort of huge family drama that requires a fully-realized set to be effective. This production is performed on the tiny stage of the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre. Director Austin Pendleton makes some inventive and curious staging choices in an attempt to make it work, with physically disparate scenes appearing next to each other onstage and strangely expressionistic lighting (Alicia Mangelsdorf), but a lot of the presentation is muddled and confusing.
Some strange acting choices also hamper the production. Stahlnecker, as Eliza, is never the termagant she's meant to be, and so it's hard to understand why everyone hates such a put-upon grandmotherly type (though she is exasperating). Broaddus gives a fine performance as the elder Gant. McDonald and Patton have some wonderful chemistry and performances as Eugene and Laura. Dodway is handsomely wooden as Ben. Joe Ulam has some very funny moments as Jake, a lecherous boarder. Ginger Grace plays Helen (the Gant's daughter) perpetually at fever pitch, always as if she's about to burst into tears. Pat Dwyer has a rich emotional life as Hugh, even when the scenes do not concern his character (which is most of the time). Debra Lass has an effective one-scene shot as Madame Elizabeth, a Madam acquaintance of Gant's, who comes to his marbleyard to comission a monument for one of her working girls. Mindy Luce seems a non-entity as Mrs. Pert, with not much of an indication of why Ben likes her so much. The other actors; Andrew Mayer, Joe Ulam, Maggie DeVora, Joseph Stillman, Mike Wikes, and Michael Enberg; are not given much to do but are fine as living set dressing.
ickets are $18 and can be purchased through SmartTix at www.smarttix.com, by calling (212) 868-4444 or at the box office prior to each performance. Abingdon Theatre Complex is located at 312 West 36th St.
Photo: Kristin Patton and Keegan McDonald