In "84 Charing Cross Road," running at the Cotuit Center for the Arts' Black Box Theater, ardent reader Helene Hanff contends that if books truly cost what they are worth, we could not afford them.
Every collector feels this way about their object of desire, but in Ms. Hanff's case, it is true.
Her books couldn't be measured by cost. They fulfilled her lifetime goal of writing her own book which in turn led to eventual successful screen and stage adaptations.
The play is an entertaining if erudite dramatization of decades of letters between herself, a New York writer, and the clerks of Marks & Co. of 84 Charing Cross Road — a London bookshop straight out of Dickens, as one character describes it.
The writing exchange begins in the early 1950s during the rationing in England postWorld War II and chronicles Ms. Hanff's television writing career — something I wished to hear a little bit more about, because I too love a good "I was there" story.
Marsha Yalden is Helene Hanff, a frayed cardigan-wearing "Noi Yoiker" full of gin and cigarette ashes. She would be a stereotype if not for the reality of the author. Ms. Yalden starts with a cliched wisecracker persona and ends up with an irresistible performance.
Marks & Co. Booksellers are personified primarily by Kempton Parker as Frank Doel, who effectively offers the softspoken reserve of a British clerk.
As directed by Carol McManus, the letter reading on the British side of the room is always portrayed in good humor. No one seems to take Ms. Hanff's comic goading in anything but the spirit it was intended. Rare print indeed.
The roster of bookshop clerks also include Theresa D. Cedrone as Cecily Farr, Erica Morris as Megan Wells and Jackson Fryer as William Humphries.
Anna Botsford plays the dual role of Helene's friend Maxine Stuart and Frank's Irish wife, Nora Doel.
It is a large cast for what is essentially a two-character play. These supporting roles feel extraneous even as the adaptation tries to use them to make Frank a more-realized character. Often there is little for these actors to do except to react and sometimes overreact.
On its surface, "84 Charing Cross Road" is a bibliophile's dream. Lots of literary name dropping here: Hazlitt, De Tocqueville, and of course, household name Catullus, but in actuality, the play is a love letter to the post office of long ago. If the play resonates wistfulness about the place of books in a life full of iPads — "I never knew a book could be such a joy to touch" — there is much more nostalgia about the lost art of letter writing.
A recent study reports the joyous news that teens and young adults still enjoy the heft of a good book in their hands, putting aside their Nook or Kindle, but no one suggests that handwritten messages are making a comeback. Beautiful book shops will persevere as the Cape itself can attest, but letters? They are truly antiquarian.
Originally post here