In his program bio, playwright Jeff Cohen dedicates Men of Clay to the protagonist, his father, Stanley "Squeaky" Cohen. If this is filial devotion, you'd hate to see filial disloyalty. For Squeaky is a na誰ve, waffling cheapskate in this ineptly crafted drama, which offers examples of his meanness and general stupidity over two long acts. The setting is early 1970s Baltimore, and Squeaky is one of a group of blue-collar Jewish men who play tennis on the red clay courts of Druid Hill Park. As one of them loudly proclaims, "This is the heyday of the Jewish bachelor boys!"
The playwright wants to show both that heyday and its decline through the character of his father. But the play pulls in two opposite directions, trying to paint an affectionate portrait of a remembered past while simultaneously exposing what was wrong with it. Cohen just doesn't have the resources as a writer to pull it off.
Initially the play is at pains to present that heyday, introducing the members of the group as they await the arrival of Squeaky (Danton Stone). There's loudmouth Ira (Steven Rattazzi), taciturn Nate (Daniel Ahearn), and dumb Danny (Victor Barbella). Considerable time is spent showing the gang's camaraderie via repetitive, Marty-style dialogue. Then a party of African Americans attempting to take a court is heard offstage. "Here come the Schwarzes," announces Ira, and all our jolly gang are revealed as rabid racists. Next comes Danny's conniving cousin Arnold (Matthew Arkin), who will prove to be Squeaky's nemesis.
Cohen, alas, is his own director. Another pair of eyes might have blue-penciled wholesale repetitions and dynamited the sluggish pace. Every one of these bachelor boys seems rather long in the tooth to be in shorts. Only the pleasing Gabrielle Maisels as Squeaky's girlfriend seems sufficiently youthful. Stone is able to make the hapless Squeaky if not sympathetic, at least authentically credible.
Presented by John Moletress, Theatre Outlook, and Dog-Run Repertory Theatre in association with Ruth Marder and Elayne & Benno Hurwitz
at the June Havoc Theatre, 312 W. 36th St., NYC.
March 30-April 23. Schedule varies.
(212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.