Rocket to the Moon: Theater review by Helen Shaw
The Peccadillo Theater Company’s revival of Rocket to the Moon (1938) is smart winter programming: Clifford Odets’s tale of a dentist’s affair with his young secretary takes place in a roasting New York summer; sweat-drenched characters wilt into events rather than exercise their own volition. It’s heat distinct from the erotic—the production can be a little ragged (the cast skews old), but this shabby sweetness suits its mild hero, and even rescues Rocket from its own bursts of misogyny.
Ben (Ned Eisenberg) is oppressed by his wife, Belle (Marilyn Matarrese), whose own father, Mr. Prince (Jonathan Hadary), wishes his son-in-law’s eye would wander. Both men woo ditzy assistant Cleo (Katie McClellan), who spends three acts as the flower-to-be-plucked, then becomes the play’s ambitious mind: “If there’s roads, I’ll take them!” she cries. “Must all men be afraid to laugh and sing?” No one has Odets’s ear for absurdity—a lothario seduces someone to lunch with a murmured “stewed…fruit?”—and his characters are gifts to actors. Or at least to men. McClellan can’t make brainless Cleo magnetic, so we take her place, our affections swinging between Hadary’s joyful bull-in-a-china-shop and Eisenberg’s keen vulnerability.—Helen Shaw
Theatre at St. Clement’s (see Off Broadway). By Clifford Odets. Directed by Dan Wackerman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins. One intermission.