Noah Robbins has been given a second opportunity to strut his stuff in the new play “Secrets of the Trade” written by Jonathan Tolins and directed by Matt Shakman running through September 4th at Primary Stages at 59 E 59 Theatres. Second opportunities rarely come by this quickly.
If you happened to miss his superb portrayal last season of Eugene, the 15 year old alter ego of Neil Simon in the ill fated and short lived excellent production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” directed by David Cromer you now have the chance to catch him as 16 year old Andy Lipman – another bright, ambitious and earnest young Jewish boy whose story is told Simon style with a heavy handed gay bent to the proceedings.
Spanning ten years in the life of Andy whose love of everything theatrical is only surpassed by his adoration for legendary demon director Martin Kerner (John Glover) he is prompted to write a letter with the hope that Kerner might find a job for him someplace, perhaps with the man himself. With the approval of his competitive parents who support his theatrical desires one hundred percent, architect Peter Lipman (Mark Nelson) and his skeptical and a bit jealous teacher of a wife Joanne (Amy Aquino) who was a dancer “in her other life” vicariously follow their son’s journey when the reply comes two years later and they learn more than they bargained for in the process.
Noah Robbins gives a well grounded performance: going from hope to excitement to coming to terms with his latent homosexuality to disillusionment to acceptance as a Hollywood writer – while maturing in his manner and looking eerily like Woody Allen without missing a single laugh along the way. And there are some very funny lines in this play.
Despite the robust hilarity in much of the script “Secrets of the Trade” is a mixed bag that doesn’t fully succeed. In both substance and style. It seems to want to accomplish too much. Is it a coming of age play or a play about coming out? Is it a satire or a truthful tale about mentoring in the theatre? Is it about the relationship between Andy and his parents or Andy and the older gay director? Actually it’s about all of the above. One minute it’s sight gags and the next – sermonizing.
Director Matt Shakman has attempted to keep things moving along briskly but the many set changes done by cast members due to the various locations in the script keep it lurching at a stop and go affair. There is a very funny bit in a restaurant where the director has taken Andy to lunch where all the famous names are “dropped” literally and a waiter “pings” his glass to replace them. But we get a lengthy bit about Jerry Lewis and the British and a bit with an agent among others that get the play off its too long track.
John Glover is all sound and fury personified as the flamboyant and flippant gay director who is not about to flaunt his sexual proclivities publicly but does offer some sage advice. As does his assistant Bradley – played to perfection by Bill Brochtrup who looks at his boss with admiration and contempt. He too wrote a letter.
Photo: James Leynse