Monday, August 16, 2010

FRINGE: My Name Is Ruth

The Book of Ruth is a dramatically inert part of the Old Testament, and though Stephen W. Baldwin's My Name Is Ruth drags it into the '50s, he hasn't found a way to expand or enrich the material. In fact, he's minimized it, paring the story down to two actors, Ruth (Magdalyn Donnelly) and the various men in her life (Jeffrey D. Querin), a convention filled with aimless monologues to invisible people. He's also wasted the talents of his design team--Barb Scott's only able to show off two of her cute costumes, and Pamela Querin has but one set with which to sell the department-store glamor (she does). Given the plodding pace, Baldwin's would-be quaint dialogue quickly sours. Ruth is a folksy woman, and Donnelly's a delight in that capacity--she all but redeems the phrase "You bet'cha" and sells lines like "Jeepers, if it were a man, I'd marry it"--but that's all she is. There isn't an ounce of depth; this play cries out for a stronger woman (think Mad Men's Peggy). This is doubly true given the milquetoast performance from Querin, who equates nervousness with a squeaky voice and thinks he can be a villain simply by sneering. The inevitable showdown between Querin's "good" and "bad" guy roles--Boaz and KR--isn't just anticlimactic, it's tedious. There's either enough material in the show to fill forty minutes, or room to flesh out the story so it's not stuck on a one-note romance (that currently lacks chemistry): either way, this concept needs a lot more work. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "A time best forgotten" and 5 being "The golden age of theater," My Name Is Ruth gets a 2.5.

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