STOCKBRIDGE -- In the background material Berkshire Theatre Group provides subscribers and members of the press, "A Hatful of Rain" is characterized as "a lost American theatrical treasure."
Watching it in the labored production on BTG's Fitzpatrick Main Stage, this "treasure" clearly has lost whatever luster it may once have had in the 59 years since it bowed on Broadway.
Michael V. Gazzo's 1955 drama is set in a New York Lower East Side apartment belonging to Johnny Pope, a returned Korean War veteran with a drug habit; his pregnant wife, Celia (Megan Ketch); and their boarder, Johnny's brother, Polo.
It's a play about the American dream gone sour. All Johnny (a sincere Tommy Schrider) wants is a job and a secure life for himself, his wife and the child she is carrying. But his two-times-a-day habit, along with his mounting debt to his supplier, Mother (Triney Sandoval), is dragging him down and threatening everything he holds dear.
Johnny spends his nights prowling the streets of New York looking for connection -- literal and figurative -- while his sexually starved wife, who is convinced Johnny is having an affair, waits at home, her frustration channeled into an increasing longing for Polo (Greg Keller in a hit-and-miss performance that struggles mightily to assert definition and clarity), who has hidden the truth about Johnny's condition from Celia but has been open in expressing his true feelings for her.
Over the course of the drama's two days and the production's interminable 21 2 hours:
n Johnny, when he isn't running out of the apartment or wailing about his need for a fix, tries to assure Celia he loves her and is not being unfaithful;
n Will-she-won't-she-jump-into-Polo's-bed Celia whines about her plight and expresses her continuing frustration over a situation she does not comprehend;
n Polo struggles between his love for Celia and his brotherly love for Johnny;
n Their clueless judgmental father (Stephen Mendillo in a performance marked more by an actor's uncertainty and confusion than a character's) offers no meaningful help at all.
It may seem odd to describe a play about a heroin addict, a dysfunctional family and a marriage that is on the rocks as naive and simple but that is precisely how "A Hatful of Rain" plays.
Gazzo's characters wear their emotions on their sleeves. They may withhold information from each other but they express their feelings over and over and over again.
These people, especially Keller's Polo, are ingenuous and without irony. When Ketch's Celia tells him to forget an arrangement they made earlier in the day to run off together, he replies with a too-easy "OK." When Johnny, under pressure from Polo, finally tells Celia the truth about his addiction, she accepts what he tells her with perfect understanding and compassion. He's not in love with someone else, he's just sick. Whew! All he needs to be cured is love and a good doctor.
In an especially heroic accomplishment, Ketch manages to generate empathy and credibility in an impossibly constructed role. It says a lot about director Greg Nsughton's production, however, that Sandoval's Mother and Chris Bannow's Apples, Mother's right-hand-man, are the most interesting characters on the stage until they and their cronies take advantage of a gratuitous show-stopping (not in a good way) scene in the second act and chew Hugh Landwehr's evocative scenery to bits.
There is perhaps a handful of American plays that rightfully could be called "a lost American theatrical treasure." "A Hatful of Rain," especially in this too-hard-working, incohesive production, is not among them.