Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Secrets of the Trade

It’s no surprise that John Glover gives a smart performance in Secrets of the Trade, Primary Stages’ first show of the season that opened last night at 59E59 Theaters. What is unexpected is that Noah Robbins, his 19-year-old costar in this New York premiere of Jonathan Tolins' delightful new comedy, is every inch his equal.

At first all I could think of was Eugene Jerome, the smart-aleck, showbiz-loving New York Jewish kid in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. During intermission I found out why, because Robbins had played him in the recent short-lived Broadway revival. But that initial impression faded as Robbins took command of the role, turning Andy Lipman, a smart-aleck, showbiz-loving New York Jewish kid, into a wholly believable and likable character. His timing, delivery, gestures - everything -- were just right. Will there be a trilogy about this character as there was about Eugene? I’d go back.

Although the play, directed by Matt Shakman, wasn’t as strong as the acting -- the second act wandered a bit -- it managed to make engaging that much-done story line of adoring acolyte and aging star. In this case it’s Andy, a precocious teenager who wants to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Martin Kerner, a six-time Tony-winning writer and director.

A second plot involves Andy’s embracing of his homosexuality. For the most part, this is handled well, although tightening this development would make the second act run smoother.

The supporting cast members also handle their parts well -- Amy Aquino as Andy’s mother, Mark Nelson as his father and Bill Brochtrup as Kerner’s assistant -- and former theatre-struck acolyte -- Bradley.

I laughed quite a lot, which isn’t always the case when I see “comedies.” I liked the show business references, such as when Martin turns to his assistant, who has been working quietly at his desk while Martin argues with Andy’s mother, and says, “Bradley, you haven’t had a line in eight pages,” and the family humor, such as Andy assuring his mother she still has the power to push his buttons and make him feel guilty like no one else.

Mark Worthington designed the simple, workable sets, Alejo Vietti the simple, appropriate costumes and Mike Durst the effective lighting.

Tickets for Secrets of the Trade, which runs through Sept. 4, are available by calling (212) 279-4200. For more information, visit

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