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Off Broadway

He Says: 59E59 Theaters’ Fern Hill Never Reaches a Full Real Boil

He Says: 59E59 Theaters’ Fern Hill Never Reaches a Full Real Boil

From the list of ingredients, Fern Hill, written with a kind charm by Michael Tucker (The M Spot, ‘L.A. Law‘), seems like a sure thing. The new play flows fairly smoothly, with each interaction ladled in with care, and the actors each spooning in their input with deliberate focus, all doing there part to bring this play to a full boil. For the first half, I sat back enjoying the precision of these professionals constructing formulations for these couples “in their golden years” gathering together to celebrate three milestone birthdays. But as the play ticks forward, I became more and more perplexed and somewhat confused by the interactions. Why, I wondered, wasn’t this tale of a gaggle of older good friends, made up of three seemingly secure straight couples, connecting on a deeper more authentic level? John Glover (Broadway’s Saint Joan, Love! Valour! Compassion!) as an artist named Vincent breathes life and humor into every word and shuffling step taken. Ellen Parker (Broadway’s Equus, Public’s Plenty) as his wife, Darla, delivers a captivating flavor and crisp engagement, while Mark Linn-Baker (Signature’s Good for Otto, Broadway’s On the 20th Century) as Billy the aging rock and roller, and his wife, Michiko, portrayed by Jodi Long (Broadway’s Flower Drum Song, “Beginners“), work their magic like pro chefs bringing spice and fun to the sauce (especially when Linn-Baker delivers a clam recipe that makes your mouth water). These two couples are exceptional in their portraits, but unfortunately, they are not the core ingredients. They are simply the side dishes at this friendly communal dinner party.  The main course is where the disconnection and flavor separation is occurring.

Mark Linn-Baker, Mark Blum, Jill Eikenberry, Jodi Long, Ellen Parker, John Glover. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

As directed with a slow somewhat stilted pace by Nadia Tass (Signature DC’s Masterpieces), the couple at the center of the table, Sunny, portrayed purposefully by Jill Eikenberry (Broadway’s Moonchildren, ‘L.A. Law‘), and Jer, played at an uncomfortable distance by Mark Blum (PH’s Rancho Viejo), never really find a real and intricate connection to the marital betrayal at the core. It feels forced upon, and not fully explored and installed in the dish. A discussion revolving around communal living and the conflict embedded within just adds another layer of interactions that feel convoluted and forced; a construct to push a plot point forward rather than feeling organic to the dish.

Mark Blum, Jill Eikenberry. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The play as a whole stutters along from vignette to vignette on a stagy set designed by Jessica Parks (59E59’s Butler), with defined costuming by Patricia E. Doherty (Public’s Southern Comfort: The Musical), overly dramatic lighting by Kate McGee (Public’s Ain’t No Mo’), and a fine sound design by Kenneth Goodwin (Assistant on Broadway’s The Parisian Woman). All mixed together in one big steamer pot, the dynamics and actions taken feel cute but superficially not required for the meal to be made.  With moments like the slow jazz dancing of the ladies, the overly long (but sweet) scene set-ups, and the discussion of porn, to name a few, are greeted by the audience at 59E59 Theaters with laughter and gentle kindness, but do little to move the dinner forward. A sharp knife cut to the meat would make a better one act meal, then these two laborious courses served slowly over two hours.

John Glover, Mark Linn-Baker, Ellen Parker, Jodi Long, Jill Eikenberry, Mark Blum. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Even when the bonds of loyalty and the discussion of sexual truths are being revealed, a layer of inauthentic distance remains.  Sunny and Jer, and their conflict are moved around like sautéed onions, becoming more opaque rather than defined, tasty, and powerful. The shifts in tone don’t register and the flavor of the discontent never really feels fully formed nor resolved in the end. It’s unsatisfying when finally served, unfinished and in need of some more work. Maybe a bit more salt or some other spice is required to enliven the piece, and a faster tighter pace. When the whole party dissolves at the end, the meal eaten leaves us hungry for something deeper and more delicious, especially given all those wonderful ingredients, like Glover (by far the best thing), Linn-Baker, and Parker, to be worked with.

Jodi Long, Mark Linn-Baker, Ellen Parker, John Glover. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

All is not lost though. Just don’t forget to try to make that fantastically delivered Spaghetti Vongole Da Michele described and listed. It sounds like it will curl your toes when created, even if, like me, you don’t really eat clams.

Mark Linn-Baker, Jill Eikenberry in Michael Tucker’s FERN HILL at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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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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