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Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine

John Spencer in Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
As of his new Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine, Warren Leight, who won a Tony for Side Man, might consider changing the spelling of his surname to "Lite." This later play has the feel of something written earlier, something by a novice testing the waters. Rather than build on what some saw as the promise of his previous work, Leight gives further evidence here that his talent may be overrated.

In this sentimental tidbit, he again looks at jazz musicians--and, into the bargain, tells a lot of sometimes funny, sometimes groan-worthy musician's jokes. Q: "What's the definition of an optimist," A: "A trombonist with a beeper." Ba-dum-bum.

Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine is peopled by three musicians. There are the Glimmer twins, Martin (John Spencer) and Daniel (Brian Kerwin), who have been estranged since the latter married the strong-headed, apparently jazz-hating Martha sometime in the late '50s. The third musician is trombonist Jordan Shine (Scott Cohen), whose dad was Edward Shine of the supposedly renowned Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine band.

The coincidence that sets the play in motion is that, while gigging at a 1990 wedding, the younger Shine meets Daniel's upper-class Connecticut daughter Delia (Seana Kofoed) and discovers the connection between them. A further coincidence that will bother audience members with a weak gag reflex is that Jordan is studying, and has become pals, with Martin Glimmer. Martin is drinking himself to death at this point in a cluttered Manhattan apartment, but he somehow hasn't lost his ability to see through life's shams to the core of all complicated issues.

What Leight offers is a play of reconciliations. Jordan contrives to bring the brothers together by first introducing Delia to her uncle, while Martin contrives however he can to keep the mutually-attracted Jordan and Delia together--this despite her engagement to a businessman called Chuck. Delia never bothers to tell Jordan about the absent boyfriend, although she does reveal time and again her ignorance about jazz.

During the course of Leight's two-acter, which shifts cinematically from Manhattan to Connecticut and back again on Neil Patel's neatly evocative set, Martin's health situation worsens, improves, and worsens again. At one point he slips into a coma, during which he leaps from his hospital bed to deliver an extraneous monologue about a fellow artist named Dickie Smith. At another point, he's up and out of his perch to give forth an equally attenuated panegyric about dying into the welcome light. Daniel's situation also has its ups and downs. At first, he resists any rapprochement with his brother, but he slowly lowers his defenses. Delia and Jordan fall out as well over the Chuck situation.

The problems faced by all four characters are traceable to old and new secrets they're sheltering for the wrong reasons; this is often the case in family dramas of this sort. In the instance of Martin and Daniel, the festering fib goes back to those fraught '50s, when Martha was engaged to Daniel but was actually carrying on an affair with Edward. It was an affair that Martin knew about but diplomatically chose to keep to himself. That betrayal was compounded by a second secret that begins to be aired late in the play when Delia forces Martin to spill the beans. He does just that in an especially clunky and undramatic speech.

But so much of Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine is undramatic. (By the way, the Playbill cover presents the title as Glimmer, Glimmer & Shine. Which is it, folks?) Although Martin is succumbing to his alcoholism, he never loses his prescience nor, indeed, his adorability. When the brothers reunite, their decades-old rancor is barely recognized, nor is Daniel's past as an addicted personality examined. The division between Jordan's background and Delia's, while acknowledged, seems not to run as deep and cause as much turbulence as it might in real life. Indeed, Leight doesn't give the narrative twists in Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine much more substance than one encounters in the average sitcom.

Leight occasionally ameliorates matters with nimble dialogue. Having emerged from his coma, Martin tells his solicitous brother, "Apparently they put me on a new drug, and I responded--what a surprise!" But, just as often, the conversations are irritating. Leight thinks it's funny when a character in one scene either repeats a line that another character has previously spoken or says the exact opposite in the very next scene. And the puns, including one about "fait accompli" and "feta cheese," don't help either.

The actors called on by director Evan Yionoulis to breathe life into these Leight-weight figures do what they can. In the process, they each give the impression of over-acting slightly as compensation for the ballast that they don't find in the lines. John Spencer, on leave from The West Wing, is a mite too cute as the imbibing, all-seeing Martin; Brian Kerwin, as a man who's cast off his drinking and drugging ways, retains more of a New York accent than might be expected; Scott Cohen as Jordan and, in one scene, as his father Edward, is vulnerable and strong in the right amounts; and Seana Kofoed, also in dual roles as Delia and the '50s Martha, holds the mannerisms to a minimum as she hops in and out of the mostly Talbot-like wardrobe Candice Donnelly has supplied.

By the way, what really works is the music. When, late in the play, Daniel puts in a call to Martin for the purpose of getting together to jam, the one-sided conversation is underscored with a duo trumpet riff that couldn't be more soulful or capture more adroitly the contrapuntal nature of sibling relationships. Presumably, Evan Lurie, who's billed as having supplied original music, devised it. During a hot Delia-Jordan love scene, a mournful version of "I Fall in Love Too Easily" is heard, and a sad treatment of "We'll Be Together Again" plays under the single scene in which Martha and Edward have the giveaway tryst that Martin witnesses. Sound designer Donald Holder must have had something to do with these mood enhancers, for which no program credit is given to the musicians. Is that Miles Davis on one of the horns?

Q: What's the definition of an optimist? A: Someone who mounts Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine and expects it to glimmer, glimmer or shine.

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