|Set in 1920's New York society, "Trophy Wife" is the story of Anna Pennington, a beautiful 19 year old girl, who marries middle-aged Moe Schmertz for his money in a desperate attempt to save her family from financial ruin and social disgrace. To her horror, she very quickly discovers that Moe is a penny-pinching stuffed shirt, and that she has sold herself very cheap.
Watson Arts is a resident company of La MaMa E.T.C. under the artistic direction of Mary Fulham. Past productions include: "Balletto Stiletto"
(2006 IT Award Nominee for Oustanding Performance Art Production); "Hercules in High Suburbia" (2005 NYC Fringe–Overall Excellence Award for Music and Lyrics); and "Devotion" (2002-2003 Montreal English Critics Circle Award for Best Production)
TROPHY WIFE STARS Sharon Ann Farrell, Brian P. Glover (The Emperor Jones), William Ryall (Chess, Seussical, Amadeus), Michael Rader (Contact, Kiss Me Kate), Joan Jaffe (Much Ado...) Lisa Passero
(Filumena) Jacqueline Kroschell, Hal Blankenship, Max Lodge and Jack Slattery
SHE MARRIES FOR MONEY, BUT ALAS, SELL HERSELF CHEAP
By Annie Midgette
The New York Times
April 18, 2007
Honky-tonk piano music accompanies the flickering credits on the film screen at the back of the stage. This tells us several things. First, “Trophy Wife,” a musical that opened Sunday at La MaMa E.T.C., is a period piece, set in the silent-film era. Second, that it manages to do a lot with relatively limited means: a single piano, a few folding chairs and lots of film. Third, that the music is pretty good.
It was written and is played by Terry Waldo, a protégé of Eubie Blake, who accompanied Mary Fulham in fashioning a bright, perky little piece based on a Chekhov short story (“Anna on the Neck”) about a young woman who thinks marrying a much older, wealthy man will help her struggling family, only to discover that she’s married a mean-spirited miser.
The transposition to 1920s New York keeps the story in a sensible key. Anna’s husband, Moe Schmertz (played as an oily weakling by Brian P. Glover), dreams of high society while behaving callously toward Anna’s increasingly alcoholic father (William Ryall).
This is all treated with a light, and lightly parodistic, touch, framed by film and music. At first the point seems to be that the ingénue Anna (Sharon Ann Farrell) is better than any of the unpleasant men around her. The one who seems palatable, the wealthy heir Arthur Randolph Howe (Michael Rader), turns out to be as shallow as the rest of them.
But the piece, with its unusually high ratio of music to dialogue, is thickly studded with songs that keep it feeling amusing, though leavened with a few more bitter offerings from Anna and her father. (Ms. Farrell has a voice appropriately dark.)
The lyrics, by Paul Foglino, are occasionally clunky, and Moe’s song about why he doesn’t eat cake went on a little long, but Mr. Glover, though not a born singer, redeemed himself in a couple of mildly amusing set-piece numbers with his two shallow, bridge-playing lady friends-of-a-certain-age (Lisa Passero and Joan Jaffe).
But ultimately the music may be giving the wrong cues. Because at the end, “Trophy Wife” turns out to take its dark side far more seriously than we have been led to expect. There is no redemption in this social satire: the end of the story feels abrupt and unsatisfying, and makes you re-evaluate everything that has come before. Anna, it turns out, can be as shallow as the rest of them.
It’s a viable plot, but the piece needs a conclusion that makes it feel final. As it is, it seems half a musical, left hanging in midair, seeking a final tonic chord.