A Theatre Review by Mary Hembree
"What matters most is the music you hear in your head" – Florence Foster Jenkins
Souvenir is just that – a remembrance of a time gone by when politeness and gentility ruled the day and political correctness wasn't even in the lexicon.
As the play begins, we join Cosme McMoon in a supper club twenty years later as he reminisces about his twelve year relationship with the wealthy society eccentric Florence Foster Jenkins. Mrs. Jenkins is convinced she's a talented soprano but in reality sounds like a cat screeching on ice. We're delightfully transported back in time to the years between 1932 and 1944 when Harlem smoke tunes filled the air, shopping was done at Altman's, lunch was at Schrafft's and sheet music was purchased not downloaded.
Greg Chrzczon as Cosme McMoon is as comfortable sitting at the piano and breaking into song as he is standing and delivering a comedic line. Mr. Chrzczon invests Cosme McMoon with an elegant style, an aspirant of greater things who is loyal to his sense of the music. He deftly conveys to the audience the tenderness he feels for Florence Foster Jenkins as he tries to protect her from the truth. Mr. Chrzczon is fluid and natural and most importantly, funny. He has the uncanny ability to evoke boisterous laughter with simply a look.
Elan, panache and a dash of silly swirl within the character of Florence Foster Jenkins. She's not complex unless you ponder what made her think she could do it, seriously devoid of pitch, tone, or rhythm. Priscilla Squiers is the master of this role remarkably and studiously off key with facial expressions that convey more than words can say. Ms. Squiers knows how to work the stage and her considerable talents are most apparent. She's dramatic and comedic at the same time delivering a beautifully crafted performance.
Priscilla Squiers and Greg Chrzczon first performed together twenty-two years ago and most recently performed Souvenir in Westport and Southbury. Watching them together on stage you are keenly aware there is indulgence, respect, and a natural flow that transcends chemistry.
Directing is a complicated craft and bringing a play to life on the stage that is flawless can only come from experience. Sonnie Osborne is an accomplished actor and director and that is perfectly clear when you sit in the audience and enjoy Souvenir.
Scott Wyshynski and Richard Pettibone never cease to amaze me with their set and lighting design. The simplicity of the set allows you to focus on the characters while placing you firmly in the era of the 1930's and 1940's. The creamy yellow and muted grey walls reflect an elegant suite at the Ritz Carlton Hotel and with a clever turn seat us in Carnegie Hall. It's perfect.
Although Mr. Chrzczon remains debonair in his tuxedo throughout, the elegant, glamorous and sometimes bizarre costumes for Ms. Squiers must be applauded. Bravo to Seamstress Rhonda Schutz and Dressers Beth Plotkin and Erin Shaughnessy for the lighting fast costume changes.
Scrafft's and Altman's are gone and so is the graciousness of that era. Greg Chrzczon and Priscilla Squiers take us back in time in with stellar performances that rock the house with laughter and conclude in a "gives me the chills" standing ovation.