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Review: 'No Way to Treat a Lady' at Colony Theatre

April 23, 2009 | 11:15 am

NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY - 1 (2) Savvy screenwriter and script doctor William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”) scored one of his early successes with his 1964 novel “No Way to Treat a Lady,” in which the hag-ridden son of a famous actress tries to win his star mother’s posthumous approval by donning various disguises and killing older women – all stand-ins, of course, for his emotionally unavailable mommy.

The novel was adapted into a 1968 film, penned by Goldman and John Gay and starring Rod Steiger as Kit Gill, a wannabe actor-turned-killer, and George Segal as Moe Brummel, a downtrodden Jewish detective whose own mother gives him far too much attention, of the cloyingly intrusive kind.

A rubber-sheet page-turner that reads like a movie pitch, Goldman’s novel was a natural for the big screen. But it took Douglas J. Cohen to realize that the ideal medium for Goldman’s highly theatrical tale was, naturally, the stage. Cohen’s 1987 musical “No Way To Treat a Lady” is an unabashedly histrionic romp with plenty of laughs, a fair share of romance and a welcome abundance of drollery.

Unlike the film, which served as a star vehicle for Steiger (although some would argue that Segal stole the show), the musical is more of an ensemble piece that requires four dynamic performers to fill the bill.

That bill is indisputably replete in the Colony Theatre’s current production, which features a dream cast and a sound staging by directors West Hyler and Shelley Butler. Dean Mora, who helms the onstage combo, supplies the pitch-perfect musical direction.

The technical elements are also terrific, particularly Jeremy Pivnick’s noir-ish lighting, complete with ominous shadows from window blinds.  However, while Sibyl Wickersheimer’s set nicely delineates the necessary locales, it’s often misused by Hyler and Butler, who, in one case, send Kit and his victim dancing from her apartment right through police headquarters, without regard for the logical boundaries of the space.

Still, the actors tread lightly over any minor glitches in the staging. The showiest role is, naturally, that of Kit, the murderous master of disguise, played here by the gifted Jack Noseworthy, who rips through his various personae with a no-holds-barred camp that spills over the proverbial footlights. To gain access to his victims’ apartments, Kit impersonates an Irish priest, an amorous Latin dancing instructor, and even a timorous young lady in full drag, all in his unrelenting campaign to score a headline in the New York Times.

A close second, in terms of sheer comic campiness, is hilarious Heather Lee, whose half-dozen roles include all of Kit’s victims as well as Moe’s suffocating mother Flora, a guilt-tripper par excellence who has been running her son’s life ever since the death of her husband. More straightforward in tone is Moe’s upper East Side society girlfriend, Sarah Stone, played by Erica Piccininni, a serviceably perky looker with the voice of an angel (although one wishes she had evinced a little more genuine terror when being menaced by the deranged Kit).

Yet is it is Kevin Symons’ down-to-earth Moe that serves as the linchpin for the show. In an age of Method-driven bad boys, sheer affability is an elusive commodity. Jimmy Stewart had it. Tom Hanks has based his career on it. And Symons is one of that same rare breed, an actor who balances his considerable craft with immense likability.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

 “No Way To Treat a Lady,” Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank.  8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 17. $37-$42. (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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