News Column

Timing everything in Gleason's one-woman show

June 30, 2013

YellowBrix

June 30--You've likely seen Joanna Gleason in any number of TV and film parts. Her Internet Movie Database profile lists 53 characters since 1979, including on "Blue Bloods" and "The Good Wife" most recently, then back through "Friends," "Boogie Nights" and 1980s Woody Allen movies. She also revealed Friday night that she had multiple turns winning money for contestants on TV's "Password" and "Pyramid" game shows.

Stage fans know her theater work, including the Tony-winning Baker's Wife role in Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" (preserved by PBS) and/or the Tony-nominated Muriel in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." So she can certainly sing -- and even a Roy Orbison tune, it turns out.

Few people, though, have seen the combination of talents Gleason showcased Friday night at The Art House for the first one-woman show she's tried.

This was part theater, part concert, part comedy, part surprise talent, and part interview with Seth Rudetsky, the accompanist/Sirius radio host/actor/writer who hosts the Broadway @ The Art House series that Gleason was launching for the season. While those star-centric shows have become known for being different each night of a run, Saturday night's show was likely similar to the Friday opening because this act seemed more planned -- and it was, in fact, hard to tell where actress left off and real Gleason began.

Whichever persona was on the stage, though, was a delight: Funny, smart, self-effacing and multi-talented, with terrific comic timing.

In a recent interview, Gleason promised an unusual evening in Provincetown because she'd never considered herself a cabaret performer and had avoided one-woman shows out of discomfort with just being herself on stage. So for the first 20 minutes, she was a heavenly guide for spirits -- us audience members -- about to reincarnate into "surface people," or humans on Earth, in "Bloom." The lovely one-woman piece written for her by Michael Patrick King ("Sex and the City" producer) allowed Gleason's character to comment on various aspects of the human condition.

This guide was letting us know what to expect being trapped inside a body and living in the modern world. In comic and poignant segments, Gleason showed a warm, engaging personality as her guide warned about physical frailties, Bravo TV and loving relationships with cellphones. In one portion, she had audience members check numbers they were given upon entry for her to call out what kind of person we'd be on Earth. I, with 39, would become a white male network president and the guide wryly commented, "Oooh, and you thought leper was bad."

After an intermission, the format changed. Gleason sang "Dance in the Graveyards" with the singing/musician quartet Well-Strung, plus son Aaron on guitar and actor/husband Chris Sarandon on drums. Her time with Rudetsky then included talk of dad Monty Hall (of "Let's Make a Deal" fame), a teen crush on schoolmate Richard Dreyfuss, an acting teacher who changed her life, a key "Into the Woods" line that she had created, her Tony Award connection to Joel Grey and where she fell in love with Sarandon.

Her one song with Rudetsky, "More Than You Know," ended in an unexpected way, and that plus a surprise finale to the conversation left you wondering how much -- if any -- of this night was actually off the cuff. But it didn't matter: All parts of the 80ish minutes were entertaining, including the versatile Gleason's closer with the musicians of "I'll Follow You," then, dueting with her son, a get-on-your-feet-and-sway "Only the Lonely."

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(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

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