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Herbert Wolff Reviews "June Moon"

The play, June Moon…now on the main stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival…is the result of collaboration by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner.  Kaufman was one of the most prolific playwrights in American theater history.  For a period of more than 35 years, from 1921 to 1958, at least one Kaufman production – he as the author or the stage director – was being performed on Broadway.  Even today, his play, The Man Who Came to Dinner, is a staple of virtually every American community theater.

Ring Lardner is best remembered as a sports writer and novelist who had a successful career in Hollywood, writing the screenplay for such hits as Mash.  His joint effort with Kaufman on June Moon was his only venture onto Broadway.  The play – premiering on October 9, 1929 – had only moderate success.

But hold on…didn’t I read somewhere that another event happened in New York about that time?  Oh yes, 20 days after the opening, something called “The Crash” occurred on Wall Street – no doubt unfortunate timing for Moon June.  But there are occasional revivals of the play, and Williamstown is currently giving it a charming, lively production.

The story is dated, and the plot is predictable, but the humor can be appreciated.

The play opens with a young man sitting opposite an attractive young woman in the club car of a train heading for New York City.  It’s all exposition to introduce the characters, but we learn she is Edna, a dental assistant returning to her apartment and her job.  He, Fred, has quit his secure position at the General Electric plant in Schenectady to pursue his dream of becoming a song lyricist.  He has made contact with a seasoned song composer who has agreed to meet with Fred about his lyrics. It seems, however, that all Fred has completed to date is the title June Moon.  He isn’t certain of the lyrics…but he’s convinced the title will inspire him and the result will dazzle Tin Pan Alley.

In the course of his conversation with Edna on the train, more lyrics pop into his head, and he attributes those to his new-found friend.  They are both smitten, and agree to see each other in the City.

However, complications arise for naïve Fred.  We learn that his future music partner, Paul, is just as anxious for Fred’s success, to overcome some of Paul’s recent failures…thus reviving a floundering career that peaked years before with a single hit song. Meanwhile, Paul’s wife has invited her unmarried sister to live with them until the sister can either find a job or a wealthy boyfriend.  Sister, of course wants to check out Fred.  Okay, it took a little more exposition, but we have now met the other central characters.

But stay with it.  The play and the action pick up when the scene shifts to the bustling offices of a major music publisher.  There’s plenty of activity when we encounter two pianos, and other ambitious songwriters, pounding out their latest hoped-for hits, and other men and women with their own agendas and hopes for success.

The Williamstown show’s cast is excellent…the direction by Jessica Stone reaffirms her skill in capturing and maintaining audience attention.  June Moon is a pointed burlesque of America’s tastes of the popular music of the period.  It’s fun to watch – and attending this production may even cause one to reflect on some of what we hear these days coming from the open windows of passing cars.

June Moon plays now through July 13 at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Herbert Wolff studied under the guidance of Lee Strasberg and subsequently had roles with summer theater companies in upstate New York and on “live” television.He is former vice president of International Television Association and former Chairman of Massachusetts Advisory Council on Scientific and Technical Education. Herb continues to write, direct and appear in stage plays. For 25 years he has been the on-air reviewer of theater and opera productions for WAMC/Northeast Public Radio.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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