No Real Depth in 'Golden Leaf Rag Time Blues' at Ensemble Theatre


Every idea a playwright has doesn’t actually become a play. And that’s a good thing, because it takes a lot of work to turn a clever idea into an actual functioning piece of theater.

Playwright Charles Smith came up with an interesting idea for Golden Leaf Rag Time Blues, but somewhere along the way he seems to have lost interest in actually creating full, three-dimensional characters. So we’re left with the cardboard cutouts that pass for people in this slight, one-hour effort directed by Ian Wolfgang Hinz.

Pompey (a game Paul Slimak) is an old guy living in a disastrously cluttered apartment who spends part of his time dreaming about his time as a vaudeville comedian on the ragtime music circuit. His was a two-man act, Pompey and Ollie, and he has flashbacks to those happy times when he and Ollie (an equally game Allen Branstein) reenact their cornball comedy knee-slappers.

In between memory blasts his middle-age daughter Marsha (Mary Alice Beck, doing what she can) shows up with Jet (a promising Brycen Hunt), an African-American teenage male in tow. He’s apparently a troubled youth, a client of the place where she volunteers and happened to be in the car when she stops by to see Pompey. Animosity sparks initially between Jet and Pompey, but if you’ve ever seen any buddy movies you know where this relationship is heading.

Trouble is, it goes there in record speed, so we never really get to know the characters or why they suddenly bond over not-so-funny jokes. As a result, the interplay between generations and races, concepts that the playwright is clearly trying to explore, fall by the wayside.

Plus, all the old vaudeville acts, corny as they were, achieved success in large part because they were timed down to the split second. But the routines Pompey and Ollie trot out are kind of half-formed and sloppy, coming off more like thrown-together skits at an office party.

Indeed, the entire play feels disassembled, similar to the odd, two-word spelling of ragtime in the title. Like a not particularly entertaining skit, Golden Leaf is short, predictable and without any real depth.

Golden Leaf Rag Time Blues
Through February 28 at Ensemble Theatre, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-2930.

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