Ned Eisenberg and Katie McClellan Star in Rocket to The Moon (Image Source)
When an oft-visited Water Cooler is the undeniable focal point in a multi-act play’s only set, you can place a safe bet that themes of Thirst and Relief — in all of their figurative and literal meanings — are sure to be explored. Currently in a limited engagement revival at Theatre at St. Clement’s, Clifford Odet’s Rocket to the Moon is set in 1938 during a sweltering NYC summer, and the heat isn’t the only thing that’s oppressive. Dentist Ben Stark (Ned Eisenberg) — whose Midtown Manhattan office provides the story’s setting — is experiencing a worrisome decline in business, as is his fellow dentist and tenant, Dr. Phil Cooper (Larry Bull), who doesn’t offer Ben much hope that his months-in-arrears rent will be paid any time soon. Ben is also treated like a doormat by his wife Belle (Marilyn Matarrese), a woman from a wealthy family who surely expected to be living a more comfortable and upwardly mobile lifestyle than what her husband is providing. Clearly, no one is too happy.
The office’s somber atmosphere is enlivened somewhat by the presence of Ben’s attractive young secretary, Cleo Singer (Katie McClellan), an ambitious and optimistic 19-year old who sees people around her settling for less than their dreams and refuses to accept the same fate for herself. Frequent visitors to the office include the Podiatrist who works down the hall, Dr.Walter “Frenchy” Jensen (Michael Keyloun) who appears openly contemptuous of Cleo’s cheerful demeanor. Ben’s eccentric father-in-law, Mr. Prince (Jonathan Hadary), also drops by on a regular basis to further the action in different ways. Mr. Prince appears to have his daughter’s best interest in mind, as he encourages Ben to move his practice uptown to a more affluent neighborhood (a move he offers to subsidize). But it becomes obvious how little he thinks of Belle, and clarifies that it’s Ben whom he considers to be more of a son, when he openly suggests that Ben cheer himself up by embarking on an affair with Cleo. What makes his suggestion somewhat confounding is the fact that Mr. Prince wants Cleo for himself, and he begins aggressively court her. Way to make things awkward at home!
Though times have certainly changed since it was written, Rocket to the Moon remains a fascinating and timeless character study about people trapped by poor decisions and imperiled financial situations who dare to take charge of their own destinies, as Ben and Cleo’s relationship leads both individuals to transform their lives in expected ways. The acting is excellent all around (Jonathan Hadary as Mr. Prince is particularly colorful), and Dan Wackerman’s direction keeps the story focused. Rocket to the Moon at Theatre at St. Clement’s is a production of The Peccadillo Theater Company in association with La Femme Theatre Productions.
Theatre at St. Clement’s (housed in a former church) is located at 423 West 46th Street (West of 9th Avenue). Performances through March 28th, 2015 are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 2pm and 7pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $75 with premium seating available, and are available by phoning OvationTix at 212-352-3101 or by visiting them online at This Link.