Unlike her older sister who had all of the advantages growing up and has it all now, Molly is stifled by her life as the superintendent for the apartments on West 87th. She inherited the job from her father, who lives in the apartment next door. Her parents have been separated for some time, but unbeknownst to her father, her mother is actually living with Molly. At the request of her mother, Molly is coerced into tying bells on all of the doors in his apartment so that her mother can keep tabs on him – thus the title of the play “The Bells of West 87th.” Into this melee, Molly decides that it is time to introduce her secret boyfriend, which prompts a family dinner that brings together her parents for the first time since they split.
Cameron Meyer is solid as the lead Molly. James Marsters is adorable as the quirky boyfriend. Robert Towers and Carol Locatell are cute as the eccentric parents and Dagney Kerr is great as the older sister. The cast is good. The problem lies within the direction and the script.
Director Richard Pierce’s blocking is stilted and awkward, and appears as if the actors were not allowed any exploration or leeway after the initial instructions were given. Pierce also contradicts himself in his blocking. The set, by Jeff McLaughlin, is designed with only perfunctory walls in an effort to aid sightlines. Pierce establishes that the kitchen in the father’s apartment is an area of refuge where people can go to talk without being overheard. Then later, he treats the set-up as if the dining area and kitchen are all one big open space where people can communicate easily. It causes the overall picture to become muddled.
Elin Hampton’s script starts out with great promise. The concept of the bells is clever, and the opportunities for comedy are rife. However, instead of comedy, we get the sad tale of a woman clinging to the past and her daughter who resents her life path. There are glimpses of the daughter trying to improve her life and be happy, but by the second act the dialogue feels more like an intervention or therapy session for Molly, than it does a family dinner to meet her new boyfriend. All of this leads up to an inexplicable and highly implausible ending, that feels more like somebody running away from their life as opposed to improving their life. Not to mention all of the subplots and problems of the other characters that Hampton tries to wrap up with a bow in one brief scene.
There are fun moments, and it is definitely entertaining to see the usually somber Marsters in more of a light-hearted role. However, try as they may, the cast can’t make up for the shortcomings of the script, or surmount the obstacles of clumsy direction.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News