A TASTE OF HONEY
September 19, 2016
The Pearl Theatre Company’s production of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey (1959) is an absorbing and harrowing look at the troubled life of a young woman trying to survive the stifling world of working-class Salford, England in the late 1950s. Written by Delaney when she was only nineteen years old, the play brought her instant critical acclaim. This production delivers the complex content with pathos and humor, with searing portrayals by the cast, and deftly incisive direction by Austin Pendleton.
Teenage pregnancy, closeted homosexuality, prostitution, interracial love, sexual awakening, and serial abandonment are just some of the themes that are woven into this mid-20th century critique of British conservatism and “high culture.” At the core of this production is the stunningly heartbreaking performance by Rebekah Brockman as Jo, a rebellious young woman scarred by lifelong emotional abuse from a harshly indifferent and unloving mother who at the same time is always the life of the party. Her constantly wounded dignity is protected by a thinly haughty shell, and Brockman’s fragile posture and upturned profile is seared in my memory. Rachel Botchan’s Helen is both funny and despicable, more preoccupied with snagging a man than the well-being of her daughter, disappearing for weeks at a time and well aware of her fading beauty. Her drunken husband Peter, Bradford Cover sashays across the stage providing comic relief as the bleak series of events in Jo’s life unfold. Ade Otukoya as Jimmy (Jo’s black lover) gives us a glimmer of humanity before disappearing, leaving us unsure of his intent, and John Evans Reese as Geoffrey (her gay roommate) delivered an agonizing performance as the only character who knows how to love, only to be rejected and abused by everyone.
The Blackbirds (Max Boiko on trumpet, Phil Falconi on guitar, and Walter Stinson on bass) start the evening by playing A Taste of Honey (written for the 1960 Broadway production) and meander in and out of the set, setting a nostalgic mood with their music. They hang out on the side or on the couch, at times unobtrusively interacting, and always observing. They are like us, watching closely but passively, only one step shy of action.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY - Nicole Duffy Robertson