Review: “Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the Wings)” is a mutilated love letter

Actress Jackie Hoffman doesn’t steal scenes so much that she first beat them up and then ran off with valuables. It’s an actor heist. The scenes generally seem pretty happy about it.

In “Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the wings)A new play by E. Dale Smith, premiering at the Cell Theater, Hoffman, an actress with a contortionist face and a wit that leaves traces, is generally savage in her attack. The production, a monologue with occasional interruptions, stars Hoffman as Ariana, an Italian-American real estate agent and amateur theater enthusiast in Roselle Park, NJ Kelly Kinsella plays Margo, an aggressively bland volunteer stagehand who must prepare Ariana for her grand entry into a New Jersey Community Theater Production of “Fiddler on the Roof”.

The theater chose Ariana to play Fruma-Sarah, the late wife of butcher Lazar Wolf. She has a number, “Tevye’s Dream,” at the end of Act I. In “Fruma-Sarah”, which takes place in real time, Ariana spends about an hour before having to continue dealing with Margo with a litany of complaints. while she nibbles less than surreptitiously from a bottle. (Think of it like a low budget “Bottle Dance” and a woman.) The play is at least 90 percent kvetch. And luckily, no one fights like Hoffman. It is a born ham, if the ham was kosher.

But if “Fruma-Sarah” is a love letter to the theater, it is the kind of letter that arrives late and mutilated, in an envelope with a summary apology from the Post Office. It has a lot of lines built to force an insider audience to laugh – like that of an all-female “Equus” and an all-male “Children’s Hour”. Still, it offers scant information on theater as a metaphor for life or role-playing as respite or why anyone in their right mind would want to don a moldy rental costume and triple step for friends and family in the first place. .

The 70-minute sour show is directed by Braden M. Burns, who is also credited with the original concept. Are jokes cheap? They seem to be greatly reduced. Its policy, although apparently liberal, is conservative. And it’s good. Or it could be. It’s likely that not everyone at Roselle Park is voting for a progressive ticket. But who thought that a zinger on the “police pronoun” should preview it? As exciting as it can be to be back in a room where most people laugh, it’s always worth asking who’s laughing and who’s being laughed at. Like a very tall boxer, the game mainly hits. It also gives Margo almost nothing to do.

In most shows, Hoffman played the second (or third or fourth) violin. Before the pandemic, she had the role of Yente in a Yiddish production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” a bigger part than Fruma-Sarah, barely. So it’s a great pleasure to see her take center stage, even though the stage at Cell, a theater on the first floor of a reconfigured Chelsea brownstone, is roughly the size of a beach towel. But the space is too small for Hoffman, a woman cut out for carp so the rear mezzanine can hear.

However, she treats the material with absolute seriousness, honoring the pieces that do not deserve it, plunging into an emotivity that the script does not gain from a distance. Better lines that seem to be written just for her, like “No one has ever described me as ‘nice.’ Never. ”She doesn’t have to steal the scenes this time, they’re already hers, even though she spends them hanging from a flying platform, confined to a chair. It’s a great presence, so “Fruma-Sarah” feels even smaller.

Fruma-Sarah (Waiting in the wings)
Until July 25 at the Cell, Manhattan; Duration: 1h15.

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