This review of Douglaston Community Theatre's production of "The Gingerbread Lady" by Neil Simon at Zion Episcopal Church was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
The Gingerbread Lady
Douglaston Community Theatre
Zion Episcopal Church (243-01 Northern Blvd., Douglaston, NY)
The Gingerbread Lady is a play by Neil Simon written specifically for actress Maureen Stapleton, who won a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for her performance in the lead role of Evy Meara, a cabaret singer whose career, marriage and life have been destroyed by her addiction to alcohol and sex. The play opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on December 13, 1970 and closed on May 29, 1971 after 193 performances. In 1981, Neil Simon adapted the play for a film released with the title Only When I Laugh. The Gingerbread Lady was also produced by the Equity Library Theater (New York City) in 1987. The title references a Gingerbread Cottage and Gingerbread Mom Evy gave her daughter Polly when she was 9 years old. Of course, the Gingerbread Mom is now crumbing just as Evy crumbles whenever her addictions get the best of her, which is most of the time.
The play opens with Evy Meara returning to her Brownstone Apartment in the West 80s in Manhattan from a ten-week stint in a rehabilitation center on Long Island where she sobered up and lost 40 pounds. Her latest binge was triggered by the infidelity of her 6-month live-in lover, Lou Tanner, a deadbeat guitar player who claimed to be inspired by Evy but who was probably just looking for a place to stay. Lou isn't the only incredibly needy person in Evy's life. Her friend Toby Landau is an overly vain woman who fears the loss of her looks and paints on her makeup in an increasingly losing battle to appear young. Then there is Jimmy Perry, a gay actor, who is currently unemployed and fears he may never work again. The funniest line in the play is when Evy asks Jimmy why they don't just get married. Jimmy responds, "You're a drunk nymphomaniac and I'm a homosexual...we'd have trouble getting our children into a good school."
The off-beat, quirky characters in this play bury their failures and fears in booze and are there for each other when they fall apart. After only three weeks of being sober and having already rationalized having a Sherry over lunch at Schrafft's, the shit hits the fan, so to speak. Lou Tanner reappears begging to return. Toby Landau's husband leaves her and at a birthday party Evy is hosting for her, she basically falls apart in front of her eyes. Jimmy Perry, who finally got a part in a play, is fired just before opening night. They all come to Evy's apartment for solace and before the night is out, Evy falls off the wagon big time and becomes the mean, unfunny, vindictive drunk she has always been. To top off the evening, she returns to Lou Tanner's apartment for some late night sex, smashes his guitar and gets punched in the face. The only positive person in Evy's life is her 19 year old daughter Polly, who has come to stay with her seeking a mom but who ends up trying to be her own mom's mother. The final character in the play is Manuel, a Spanish delivery boy, who insists on getting cash ($14.28) for the groceries since he knows Evy has been delinquent in paying past bills on credit.
This production features a very talented cast, which included Clare Lowell as Evy, Barbara Mavro as Toby and Harriet Spitzer-Picker as Polly. Rich Weyhausen was perfectly suited to play Jimmy Perry but Michael H. Carlin, an extraordinary, professional actor, should not have been cast as both Lou Tanner and Manuel. Those two roles need to be played by different actors. While Mr. Carlin did the best he could, I feel he was miscast. Lou Tanner, in my opinion, should be a man in his 30s, and Manuel, the Spanish Delivery Boy, should be as young as possible. Before the play reached Broadway, Neil Simon changed the ending to make it a bit more hopeful. Polly momentarily inspires her mom and the final line in the play is when Evy tells her daughter, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you." Still, the audience has no illusion that the road ahead will be easy for either Evy or Polly. However, a more realistic ending to the play is the one Neil Simon originally wrote for it. In that version, Evy alienates all her friends and the final scene is when Manuel returns to Evy's apartment to get paid for the groceries "in trade." Given that version of an ending, the younger Manuel is (I suggest 14 or 15), the greater it would drive home the point of just how far Evy has fallen.
If you haven't seen The Gingerbread Lady, I highly recommend you go see this show. Douglaston Community Theatre hosts their productions in the Parish Hall of Zion Episcopal Church. Reasonably priced concessions are now served before the show and during intermission. There are cushions on all seats to make your theater-going experience more enjoyable and you can't beat the price of a ticket.