Sunday, March 9, 2003

'Hard Way' makes it tough for audience

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

Poor Albert. The small-time gambler and pool hall king has dropped dead in a Reno motel room.

Now the self-made philosopher ("take the easy shots one at a time") is left to haunt his three grown daughters, literally and psychologically, as they gather together to bury him.

Along the way, the three misunderstood sisters reminisce a little, fight a little, laugh a little and argue about who Daddy (an appropriately glib Robert Allen) loved most.

This is Three the Hard Way in a nutshell. Unfortunately, there isn't much more than a nutshell to the play by Cleveland playwright Linda Eisenstein, which is receiving its regional premiere by the New Edgecliff Theatre at the Artery in Newport.

A big problem is that for much of Three the Hard Way, including the entire first act, Eisenstein gives us an interesting situation, but little conflict and no plot.

By play's end these women learn a few things about themselves in predictable ways, but there is no sense of urgency in what is going on here.

Where's the drama? It appears in fits and starts, then disappears as the brief two-act play moves on to more familiar hustler analogies about angles, shots, odds and "laying it all on the line."

When Eisenstein digs deep to display some real emotional conflict, director John Edward Goodnow elicits compelling individual moments out of the sisters.

But the cohesive whole showing us what this play is about and why we should care is missing.

Rochelle Halter gives us the most complete character, and the play's most amusing moments, as practical Mary, the eager, smiling dependable daughter. She is always the peacemaker and tries her darndest to keep the dysfunctional family together.

As "bad" daughter Irene, the deadbeat gambler, Elizabeth A. Harris comes to life in the second act with a fine monologue about having to identify Albert in the morgue, as well as another scene where she decides to spend Dad's last stash of cash in a casino. More moments like these would add a lot.

Less successful is Tara Michelle Guilfoil as Kathleen the control freak and second-generation pool shark. She isn't helped by having to wear high-heeled shoes that clunk loudly on the wooden set.

David Levy gives the production a nice sound design of noises (cars driving by the motel in the distance) and music. The elevator version of "Cats in the Cradle" at the wake is a clever choice.

Three The Hard Way, through March 23, New Edgecliff Theatre, 913 Monmouth St., Newport, (513) 763-3844.

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