Detroit Arts Live and Worth Seeing: MBT Harris Cashes Out

2014/01/27 at 11:53 am · Filed under Current Season, DETROIT ARTS: Theater, MBT Reviews

Comedy “Harris Cashes Out!” premieres at Meadow Brook Theatre

By VIVIAN DeGAIN

The Oakland Press Jan. 14, 2014

Meadow Brook Theatre may be 650 miles away from New York City, but the phrase “Off Broadway” fits perfectly for MBT this month, and the world premiere of its current production “Harris Cashes Out!”

Written by Londos D’Arrigo, “Harris Cashes Out!” is a comedy of perspectives about Harris Wellborn, a song writer who’s fleeting fame on Broadway has left him little but dreams in the golden years of his life.

As the story goes, Harris wrote one musical “Passing Fancy” that opened on Broadway 40 years ago and closed after just one performance. Bad weather, bad timing or bad luck may have shut down the show, and Harris continued to write ditties with some degree of success, enough to scrape by and pay the bills – but only along with the income raised by his wife and their bed and breakfast.

But as this story opens, aging Harris is a recent widower. His wife, their home and their livelihood are gone and his health is not so great either. Is he a one-hit wonder? A has-been? What is his success, the virtue of fame and the cost of his dreams?

At least he is “lucky” enough to have a sister moving him into a rent-free apartment. Rent-free, she says — run-down, he says — and into a neighborhood, like him, long declining. Harris is sour and miserable.

Then what on Earth makes these D’Arrigo lines a comedy?

It is actor Paul Hopper – who’s sour, sarcastic and very funny as Harris.

The curtain opens and we meet Harris and his sister Maggie Bellows debating the value of “his treasure” of cardboard boxes filled with songs, papers, clippings and rejections. Maggie, played by Milica Govich might be sanctimonious, but she is also providing him with a neighbor to check-in on Wellborn and make sure he is taking his meds.

The immature neighbor Kim Sutton, played by Katie Hardy, arrives and turns the story on its head. She appears as part-punk-rocker, part space-cadet, part clown, and her appearance makes the old man shudder and recoil.

Yet Hardy’s ridiculous dress and trippy lines take Harris, and the audience, from stodgy to surprise. She is delightful and bright. Without either of them realizing it, Harris gets startled back into life and Kim gets apprenticed into the realities of life.

When Kim’s conniving boyfriend Jason, played Lucas Wells, discovers Harris’s cache of mementos, he devises a sinister plan to cash-in on Harris’s near-fame. Jason uses the internet to steal and revive Harris’s image, and sell off the old man’s hoard, little by little. Harris is left in the dark. As the “business” gains traction, scheming Jason and reluctant Kim learn how to make even more money – by making Harris posthumous.

How far will they take their little plan?

Meadow Brook Theatre Artistic Director Travis W. Walter directs “Harris Cashes Out!” and the show is humorous, yet so understated the audience is dumbfounded.

Walter led MBT’s production of D’Arrigo’s “Spreading It Around” two years ago.

“Our audiences absolutely loved it,” Walter said. “When Mr. D’Arrigo contacted us and asked us if we would like the opportunity to do the very first production of his new comedy — we jumped at the chance! It is both an honor and a challenge to bring something new to life.”

“Harris Cashes Out!” could certainly reflect D’Arrigo’s autobiography to some degree. For more than 30 years, D’Arrigo wrote for Phyllis Diller, Lily Tomlin and Joan Rivers. We can only imagine how old meets new in so much of his life.

“Harris Cashes Out!” is a fine comparison of old verses new, of image verses reality, of meaning verses context. The humor is blatant at times and subtle at others, ranges from smirk to smart.

The MBT’s staging is complete at the end of the production when Walter reprises a MBT favorite: Before we know the play is ended, all four actors return onstage in costume from “Singing in the Rain” and do a choreographed dance to stop the show.

This comedy fits on this stage at this time and this reviewer thinks it will fit this audience of all ages.

Maybe this distance from Meadow Brook Theatre to Broadway isn’t so far after all.

Terry W. Carpenter is the stage manager for this “Harris Cashes Out!” with set design by Brian Kessler, costumes by Liz Goodall, lighting by Reid G. Johnson and sound by Mike Duncan.

Meadow Brook Theatre presents ‘Harris Cashes Out!’ through Feb. 2. Performances at 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2, 6 or 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 or 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets: $25-$40. Tickets at the MBT box office (248) 377-3300 or http://www.ticketmaster.com. For more information, visit www.mbtheatre.com.

 

8/8/2017 Theatre Mirror Reviews-'Harris Cashes Out"

THE THEATER MIRROR,New EnglancTsLIVE Theater Guide



"Harris Cashes Out"

A Review by Tony Annicone

Newport Playhouse's current show is Londos D'Arrigo's "Harris Cashes Out." The author is a Canadian

writer who for over thirty years wrote hard-hitting laughs for comedy icons such as Phyllis Diller, Lily

Tomlin and Joan Rivers. Forty years ago, a composer named Harris Wellborn wrote "Passing Fancy", an off-

Broadway musical. Sadly, it closed after just one performance. Fast forward, and we find the elderly Harris

down on his luck, but he still dreams of making it on Broadway. He continued to write jingles and opened a

bed and breakfast with his late wife. His sister lends him a helping hand by putting him into one of her

apartment rooms.The laughs unfold when he is thrown together with the flaky young woman who lives down

the hall. His life takes a hilarious turn when her scheming boyfriend comes up with a devious plan to cash in

on Harris' past and we find out what happens to all of them. Director Sandy Cerel cast these roles with the

best performers and elicits stunning, insightful performances which wins her cast thunderous applause at

curtain call.

Sandy is aided in her task by hard working stage manager Tonya Free who keeps things running smoothly all

night long. Olivia Sahlin is her co-stage manager. Londos constructs a very well written script that the

audience can enjoy and savor. Ralph Stokes commands the stage as Hams whose treasure consists of songs,

clippings, papers and rejections. He handles his many one liners wonderfully, making them hit paydirt. Ralph

has an enormous amount of dialogue. Some of his funniest moments occur with his mangling current day

slang especially computer language and he calls Kim, a dog walker, Miss Kibbles and Bits. Leslie Zeile is

terrific as Maggie, his patient sister who helps her bipolar brother through his various mood swings and tries

to keep things on an even keel. She moves him into her rent-free apartment. The dilapidated set is by Tonya.

Cathy Andreozzi plays this role at alternating performances.

Isabella Bennett is a hoot in her debut performance at the Playhouse. She plays Kim Sutton, a spacey up to

date gal who wants to bring Hams into the current times. Her costumes and antics are priceless, leaving you

in stitches because her dingbat character is hilarious. Some of her funniest moments occur when she sits on a

towel he puts on the sofa and she lost her train of thought while speaking. Isabella handles the transition to a

more normal gal as the show goes on. Jonathan Perry II makes a gangbusters debut on the main stage. I have

known him since he was a baby and he has grown into a wonderful, mature actor. Jonathan oozes with

deviousness as Jason, Kim's boyfriend when he concocts the plan to make a bundle of money from Harris by

selling his music online and then pretending he is deceased. His maneuvering his girlfriend is beautifully

done. They shine in their scenes together. Tonya plays the role of Kim at alternating performances. What

happens afterwards is sidesplitting and can't be revealed lest it spoil the show for the audience. So for a brand

new well written comedy, be sure to catch "Harris Cashes Out" at the Newport Playhouse.

 By John Kennet, Special to The Oakland Press

Meadow Brook Theatre presents “Harris Cashes Out!” by Londos D’Arrigo Jan. 8-Feb. 2 at Meadow Brook Theatre in Wilson Hall on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester. For tickets, visit mbtheater.com or call 248-377-3300.

Canadian playwright Londos D’Arrigo, whose new comedy “Harris Cashes Out!” receives its world premiere this month at Meadow Brook Theatre, knows a thing or two about second acts. Not only does he write them, he’s living one.

Following a career in which he split his time between advertising copywriting and penning jokes for comediennes Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers, D’Arrigo is now a full-time dramatist. Maybe this is actually D’Arrigo’s third act.

“It’s the final act,” he says with a laugh by phone from Toronto, where he was born and raised. “It’s where I want to stay. It’s the big act.”

A playwriting life is a dream come true for the longtime showbiz fan, who began attending national touring productions of plays and musicals in the 1960s, at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre (now the Sony Centre). His entrance into the business came in the early ’70s, when he pitched a sheet of jokes to comedy star Phyllis Diller at her Toronto stage door. He was in his 20s.

Sample D’Arrigo joke for Diller, on the topic of her cosmetic surgery: “More men have worked on me than the Pyramids.”

“She just went crazy for them,” D’Arrigo says, adding that he sold jokes to the bewigged comic over many years, and the two kept in touch until her death in 2012 at the age of 95.

“She knew I had that spark … I had an instinctive ability to do it.”

He adds, “Phyllis really was my mentor. When she’d come to Toronto to perform she always threw a little party in her suite after the show. Once everyone left, I’d stay behind and she’d talk to me about comedy.” 

Using his experience with Diller, he pitched jokes to Joan Rivers and became one of the primary writers for her appearances on talk shows (“Tonight” and “The Late Show”) and for engagements in Las Vegas, Australia and London.


 

Former joke writer pens new comedy at Meadow Brook Theatre

ABBEVILLE OPERA HOUSE, ABBEVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA

“At that time she was using up material faster than I could write it,” D’Arrigo says. “It was a very heady time — a lot of work, a lot of performing under pressure. I kind of thrived on it.”

Comedy proved a valuable training ground for playwriting. Both forms are about setup and payoff. He cites Neil Simon and Moss Hart as his theatrical influences.

When not writing for comediennes, his work in advertising paid the bills. But being a dramatist was his ultimate objective.

“Between advertising stints I would work on my own plays or films, none of which ever went anywhere,” he says. In part, he was too busy with his day jobs to promote his own scripts.

By 2009, D’Arrigo had enough free time to finish and promote a full-length comedy, “Spreading It Around,” which — through his own marketing efforts and word of mouth — has since blossomed in more than 20 North American regional theaters, including Rochester’s Meadow Brook. The iconic theatrical publisher Samuel French recently picked up the title.

Meadow Brook artistic director Travis Walter, who directed the earlier play, was eager to premiere “Harris Cashes Out!,” D’Arrigo’s four-character comedy. Meadow Brook favorite Paul Hopper plays a grumpy septuagenarian named Harris Wellborn, a failed Off-Broadway songwriter whose property and legacy are stolen by quirky, scheming young people.

“He’s based on a couple of specific people that I’ve known,” the playwright says of Harris. “I’ve been fortunate enough to know some very creative people over the years. Harris is a (composite). I don’t see too many of them around anymore. They were of another generation, a little bit eccentric.”

After attending the Meadow Brook production in January, D’Arrigo will sit down this winter to write a third play in this new act in his life. He admits that somewhere, “very deep in the drawer,” are a couple of old early-career plays. He observes, “You evolve over the years, and the market changes.

“Right now, I prefer to go onto something new and fresh.”