Thursday, August 12, 2010

Secrets of the Trade

“Secrets of the Trade,” Jonathan Tolins’ semi-autobiographical new play, desperately wants to be more than just another tale of a wide-eyed, stage-struck kid who meets his idol. In fact, Tolins sets out to provide an unflinching examination of the mentor-mentee relationship with all its ambiguities and politics revealed.

Andy Lipman (Noah Robbins), a 16-year-old Jewish boy from Port Washington, writes a letter to Martin Kerner (John Glover), supposedly Broadway’s biggest director, for advice on how he can succeed in the theater. After a lunch meeting, the two continue to sporadically meet up throughout the 1980s.

Andy, who starts out as an ambitious overachiever, becomes sexually and professionally frustrated as the years pass. Meanwhile, Martin becomes increasingly fed up with Andy and his pleas for help.

Constantly on the sidelines are Andy’s parents, who question whether Martin has a sexual motive for being their son’s mentor, and Martin’s assistant, who provides the most levelheaded perspective.

But in the end, this comedic drama is too slow and laborious to succeed in any form. What might have been a cute nostalgic story is overwhelmed by Tolins’ desire to unload emotional baggage from his youth. Even the handful of jokes meant for the theatergoing crowd fail to land.

There is little justification for the play being set in the 1980s. As the audience enters, show tunes from the period are playing. And numerous references are made to Ronald Reagan throughout the play. But otherwise, it has no direct bearing on the story itself.

Noah Robbins, who played Eugene in last season’s flop revival of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” is credibly awe struck as a youngster but less convincing as his character matures.

John Glover is charming as the egotistical Martin, but hams it up while yelling at his poor protege or making a drunken phone call.

If you go? “Secrets of the Trade” plays at 59E59 through September 4.
59 East 59th Street, 212-279-4200, 59e59.org.

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