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Off Broadway

Dead End: Happy Endings But Only in the Movies

Dead End: Happy Endings But Only in the Movies
Regina Betancourt, Lynn Mancinelli, Jake Murphy, Emily Kratter, Spencer Aste, Jon McCormick

Regina Betancourt, Lynn Mancinelli, Jake Murphy, Emily Kratter, Spencer Aste, Jon McCormick. Photo by Pavel Antonov

It opens with a wondrous photo like image. A black and white tableau with a strong sense of old time New York City or at least the Hollywood version of the city. Chad Yarborough, the set designer, made surprisingly good use of the small basement space of the Axis Theatre Company. Sidney Kingsley’s Dead End, a play rich in its own history, takes us back to the 1930’s period when NYC was suffering huge inequalities in its social order. The scene before us is of the wealthy on one side of the stage, dressed in tailored suits and cocktail dresses, courtesy of the simplistic detailed costumes by Karl Ruckdeschel. We soon discover that stage right represents the land of the rich, living in a fancy building, forced by construction to use the back door of their luxury accommodations. Out back in the dead end alley, stage left, are the much less fortunate, who loiter; watching and taunting the upper class with disgust mixed with envy in every vulgarity thrown. The disparity is bleak, sad, and through this play, we get a glimpse into the hearts and souls of the desperate.

Shira Averbuch, Jon McCormick, Regina Betancourt, George Demas

Shira Averbuch, Jon McCormick, Regina Betancourt, George Demas. Photo by Pavel Antonov

Hanging out on a symbolic pile of blocks representing an East Side wharf is a gang of boys played with a surprising depth and awkward exaggeration by three talented young women (Emily Kratter as Milty, Regina Betancourt as Spit, Lynn Mancinelli as Angel) and one young male, Jon McCormick, as their leader, Tommy. It’s difficult at first to adjust to their antics, as it is in no way trying to be realistic, but the abstract speaks volumes about these boys and their situation, and eventually it crawls under your skin. Trying to keep an eye on the young lad, is Drina, a working-class girl, well played by Shira Averbuch, who has tried her best to keep her younger brother, Tommy out of trouble since their parents died.  She also has her touch of hopeful romanticism secreted away under her worn exterior.

Jon McCormick, Lynn Mancinelli, Britt Genelin, George Demas, Emily Kratter

Jon McCormick, Lynn Mancinelli, Britt Genelin, George Demas, Emily Kratter. Photo by Pavel Antonov

The four rascals, paying little attention to Drina, find themselves getting in all sorts of trouble with the rich folk that come their way, especially the wealthy older Mr. Griswald (Spencer Aste). The ‘kids’ do an admirable job playing these foul-mouthed tough guys that hang around the alleyways causing mischief.  Milling around them, is the down on his luck architect, Gimpty, played with a tender edge by George Demas and the girl, Kay portrayed effortlessly by Britt Genelin.  What transpires between this two is completely engaging and sweet.  Gimpty struggles with unemployment but dreams of rebuilding his neighborhood and rising out of poverty. Having been a gang member in his youth, he has managed to finish high school and go on to college, but hardships have forced him down into deep poverty and hopelessness. Kay wants to love and be with him, but sees a brighter future with the handsome young rich guy, Phillip Griswald, meticulously played by Jake Murphy. There longing for each other has a tender yearning quality that resonates across the theatre, both in its care and in its destruction.

 Brian Parka, Brian Barnhart, Lynn Mancinelli, Katie Rose Summerfield

Brian Parka, Brian Barnhart, Lynn Mancinelli, Katie Rose Summerfield.
Photo by Pavel Antonov

Appearing out of thin air, disguised with the help of ‘plastics’, is one of Gimpty’s old gang member buddies, Baby Face Martin who is running from the police for a series of brutal murders.  Brian Barnhart plays him with a heightened sense of mischief and trouble, that even his mother, Mrs. Martin (Laurie Kilmartin) has difficulty dealing with (Humphrey Bogart played Baby Face in the film version). But even the dangerous killer has a soft romantic spot for an old flame, the complicated hooker, Francey, played by the wonderful Katie Rose Summerfield, the object of his desire.  There is a tender moment that feels like it’s right out of an old gangster movie that inevitably goes sour at the end. This is the way that love goes in the Dead End, not surprisingly.  There are no happy endings for anyone here, just an endless parade to lovelessness and poverty. It is literally the Dead End for these young characters, with no way out; an idea that resonates beyond the confines of this period piece into our world of the disenfranchised.

Brian Barnhart, Emily Kratter

Brian Barnhart, Emily Kratter. Photo by Pavel Antonov

As directed by Randy Sharp, these actors are all exaggerations of the model, playing with the stereotype and pulling it wide open as far as they can. It’s a fascinating concept that she expands through the whole piece, taking this old-time play and expanding it in all different directions, bringing in extreme moody lighting by David Zeffren, creative original music by Paul Carbonara, abstract movement, and the creative use of background singing, odd line reading, repetitive words said out of context, and sounds on top of sounds without any logic. In general, the ploy works well, keeping us entertained and engaged. It’s a bit abstract at times, but in a manner that one can get behind.
Lynn Mancinelli, Jon McCormick, Regina Betancourt, Emily Kratter

Lynn Mancinelli, Jon McCormick, Regina Betancourt, Emily Kratter. All images by Pavel Antonov. Photo by Pavel Antonov

Interestingly enough, the band of rascals, when depicted in the 1937 movie version of Dead End, which ran for 684 performances at the Belasco Theatre, became the famous ‘Dead End Kids‘. They proved to be so popular with the public that they continued to make movies under various titles including the ‘Little Tough Guys‘, the ‘East Side Kids‘, and the ‘Bowery Boys‘, until 1958. Some of the famous names that were connected to the ‘Dead End Kids‘ at Warner Brothers, included James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, and Ronald Reagan. Not such a terrible ending for all those connected to this play and for these actors. Happy endings do exist, but only in the movies.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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