PROVO — In the name of full disclosure, I asked to see Crossing Delancey because I grew up with and love the film. I’m making every effort to discuss this show on its own merits instead of comparing it to the film. But it only seems fair to state that I do have another version to compare it to. Crossing Delancey takes place in New York City and tells the story of Isabelle, who spends her days working at a bookstore, hoping that Tyler, a local author, will stop by and notice her. On Sundays she visits her Bubbie (a Jewish term for grandmother). Bubbie hires a matchmaker, Hannah, to set Isabelle up with a nice man, because “loneliness is a sickness.” Hannah brings in Sam, a pickle maker, into the picture. Isabelle then has to choose between two men, two cultures and between her pride and her heart.
In general I admired the actors’ performances. My favorite was Sam (Tyler Harris), the pickle vendor. He was a sweet character that wanted others to be happy. But he there was a self-assurance in his character that kept people from walking all over him. For example, when Isabelle refuses to go out with him because she doesn’t want to cave to her grandmother’s match-making scheme, his reaction is wonderful. He accepts her refusal gracefully, but tells her a story about a man whose hat limited his field of vision. When he changed his hat, he changed his life. A few days later, he sends her a hat, encouraging her to change her outlook. He cares about Isabelle and is willing to work and wait for her.
I also enjoyed Bubbie (Nan Weber) and Hannah’s (Lynne Bronson) performances. They had wonderful banter as they argued over Hannah eating all of Bubbie’s food, over Sam and Isabelle, over whether Sam’s purple suit looks good or not, and pretty much everything else. But I missed the New York accent and Jewish cadence in their speech. Many New York Jews have a specific way of speaking and both actresses attempted to recreate that accent. There were moments of success, but in general the accents came and went. This was especially true with Yiddish words and phrases. Yiddish sounds a great deal like German, with Hebrew, Russian, and English words thrown in. But the Yiddish in this piece sounded entirely too American, especially the pronunciation of the “r,” making it obvious that the phrases were unfamiliar. The inconsistent accents and Yiddish were jarring, considering how thoroughly Jewish the characters were supposed to be.
The performance I struggled with the most was Isabelle’s (Aubrey Reynolds). Bubbie kept implying that she was older when ridiculing her for not being married. But I felt like she was nineteen years old. She made statements about being happy being single, enjoying the options she had as a single woman, but then she threw herself at Tyler (Patrick Kintz), who was clearly oblivious of her. In some scenes Isabelle was elegant and mature, but then she pouted and refused to talk to Sam when they were set up by Hannah. So I was confused about who she was and what she wanted, which was a problem considering she was the main character. Part of the confusion came from the script (written by Susan Sandler); Isabelle’s character seemed inconsistently written. In one sentence she would come across as confident and self-aware, but in others she was talking about how wonderful Tyler was, even though she only exchanged basic greetings and information with him. She even calls him at 10 o’clock at night, assuming he will admit to being interested in her, even though he has expressed no interest at all. It was difficult to get to know her through inconsistent lines and the confusion was compounded by some directing choices (directed by J. Scott Bronson). There was a scene that took place in Isabelle’s imagination, with Tyler noticing and falling for her. The scene was lit with pink light, Isabelle was sitting on the counter with her legs crossed, reading. It was a fun scene, especially the transition with Isabelle tripping and falling, the daydream ending, and the real Tyler walking in and finding her on the floor. But it added to the confusion about Isabelle’s age and character.
I was impressed with the set design for this production (Daniel James). There were two main locations in this piece, the bookstore and Bubbie’s kitchen. Each place had its own space on the stage, and it was very clear where everything was. Every other scene took place on a single park bench that could become any number of locations. It was a great use of space, especially putting some many scenes on one bench so there didn’t have to be set changes and allow things to flow. But what I really loved was the use of the doorways. There are two curtained doorways in the theater, and both were used well. The one close to Bubbie’s apartment allowed people to leave to answer the door and return with props. For example, Isabelle goes to answer the door and returns with two boxes from Sam; one containing a cake for Bubbie and the other with a hat for Isabelle (and all the food in the show was real, which was a really fun choice). But my favorite use of doors was when Isabelle called Tyler late at night. A phone was set up near the doorway, and Tyler popped through the curtains in a bathrobe to answer it. It was a funny moment to watch him dive for the phone through the door, as though he had just fallen out of the shower to answer it.
While I missed the New York accents and was unsure what to think of the main character, there were some wonderful moments in this play. The end, which I’ve chosen not to discuss because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who goes, was very sweet. If you like romances, Crossing Delancey might be a good show for you.