Reviewed by George Basler
When you think of the old Soviet Union, the word romance doesn’t come immediately to mind. But that’s what’s on display in Do You Turn Somersaults?, which opened this past weekend (April 12-16) at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott and will run through April 22.
The play by the Soviet playwright Aleksei Arbuzov is a sweetly sentimental, if totally predictable, take on the age-old theme of romance among older folks.
What’s most interesting about the Cider Mill production, presented by Clocktower Theater Company, is how two established pros bring the main characters to life in a way that disguises the overall slightness of the story.
Tom Kremer and Carol Hanscom, members of the theater faculty at Binghamton University, have appeared in numerous local productions over the years. They give thoroughly engaging performances that are both humorous and touching.
Arbuzov is an interesting story in himself. According to his New York Times obituary, he was one of the most popular playwrights in the Soviet Union. His plays attracted some in the West because they provided glimpses of Soviet life that were not burdened by ever-present political themes.
One of the best things about Do You Turn Somersaults? is that it shows the universality of people’s joys and sorrows, despite their political differences. However, the play is bland at times and has the unfortunate tendency to rely on romantic clichés.
The action focuses on a romance between a brusque and imperious doctor (Kremer) and an eccentric, free-spirited patient (Hanscom) in a sanatorium on the Baltic Sea in 1968. Sanatoriums were vast complexes built under the Stalin regime that were holiday resorts and medical centers for workers.
Doctor and patient initially can’t stand each other. During the play, though, they develop a deep affection, dare we say love?, as they reveal their inner loneliness and past marital scars.
The play certainly has its moments. A scene in which the two characters go out to dinner and get tipsy over drinks is lovely and well played. A scene in a military graveyard where Russian war dead are buried is especially moving. World War II has touched both characters in deeply personal ways, and their understated grief is effectively played by both actors.
Other scenes, however, lack the impact that stronger dialogue could provide. Arbuzov has the tendency to abruptly shoehorn the characters’ revelatory moments into the play, rather than letting them grow naturally out of the action.
Kremer and Hanscom, who are married in real life, work hard and, for the most part, successfully keep the material fresh. Kremer, who is also the play’s director, gives a fine, nuanced performance as a man who has emotionally withdrawn because of past traumas. The character has both funny moments and moments of painful introspection. Kremer plays both aspects well.
Hanscom also gives an effectively multi-dimensional performance as the free-spirited patient who is locked in her own illusions and sorrows. Her performance is both funny and affecting.
Jake Wentlent is fine in the small, but necessary, part of the narrator whose brief commentaries provide a bridge between the scenes.
While Do You Turn Somersaults? is trite at times, it does have its charms and provides a glimpse of what life was like for ordinary Soviet citizens during the Cold War. The final scenes provide a nice emotional capstone to the evening.
IF YOU GO: Do You Turn Somersaults? by Clocktower Theater Company will continue this weekend (April 19-22) at Cider Mill Stage, 2 S. Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $18-$28; purchase online at clocktowertheater.thundertix.com.