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`Gloria Birnbaum' makes debut at Oakland

August 25, 2012 - Andy Gray
In Bernie Appugliese’s new play, Gloria Birnbaum is making her Broadway debut.

“Gloria Birnbaum’s Broadway Debut” is making its own inaugural appearance about 429 miles off Broadway at the Oakland Center for the Arts.

The Youngstown native has gathered some of the area’s top talent for his one-act comedy, which has two remaining performances at 8 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 25) and 2:30 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 26).

The broad, old-fashioned comedy tells the story of a woman (Maureen Collins) who’s left Buffalo and her old identity behind – Gloria Birnbaum now is Gloriann Marlowe. After years of struggle and failed shows, she finally is making her Broadway debut as the star of a new musical called “Why Not Love?”

But there are complications, including an amorous producer (Chuck Simon) and a flamboyant director (Tom O’Donnell) who insists on rearranging the song order an hour before curtain time. But one problem (let’s call it a skeleton in her closet) is so great, it only can be entrusted to family. So she summons her brother Bernie (Josh Lewis) to New York City to lend a hand.

There are plenty of funny bits, fast banter and clever ideas in the script that runs just less than an hour long, and Appugliese has assembled a cast that gets the most from the material. Collins plays Gloria/Gloriann as a woman with a brash Ethel Merman-esque exterior, but a mass of insecurities (and legitimate fears) just below the surface. Lewis plays well off of her, getting more high strung and nervous as he learns the reason he was invited to the theater.

And Carla Gipson gets many of the script’s best lines as a costumer with a low tolerance for Gloriann’s behavior.

In his direction, Appugliese has a tendency to over rely on volume to sell the joke. Too often he has his actors shout their lines as if the louder it is the funnier it is. But a flashback that explains Gloriann’s predicament (without Bernie leaving the stage) is beautifully executed with subtle shifts in lighting and tone.

There’s no shortage of laughs here, but the play feels incomplete. The ending is abrupt, and it would be fun to meet the producer’s wife and see Gloria go to increasingly desperate lengths (with the bumbling help of her brother) to get through opening night before anyone else discovers her secret.

On the third night of a five-show run, it was nice to see a full house at the Oakland supporting an original play, and it was an encouraging sign for Appugliese and other local playwrights interested in doing more than restaging Broadway’s hits locally.

Tickets for “Gloria Birnbaum’s Broadway Debut” are $12. For reservations or more information, call 330-272-7200.


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