Men of Clay
This rather dismal drama was inspired by writer/director Jeff Cohen's father and his group of friends, who played tennis on the red clay courts of Baltimore's Druid Hill Park.
The actual plot of the piece, which involves Stan being caught up in a stolen car ring scam and facing hard time as a result, could make for an intriguing play, but Men of Clay is so disjointed that it's nearly impossible to appreciate anything about it. Cohen's dialogue is often stilted and overly expository. The characters, though based upon actual friends of his father, seem more cartoons than flesh and blood people.
It's hard to feel much empathy for any of them. Ira Farber (Steven Rattazzi) is a loud-mouthed bigot who lashes out at his friends almost as vociferously as he complains about the "schwartzers" (a derogatory Yiddish term for African Americans) whose presence is changing the old neighborhoods. Rattazzi plays Ira at such an annoyingly high pitch -- think Nathan Lane, but without the charm -- that it's painful to watch and listen to him. On the other hand, Nate Askin (Dan Ahearn) is such a cipher that it's difficult to know what to make of him. With his understated mannerisms, Ahearn is a nice contrast to the manic Rattazzi, yet he fails to give the audience anything concrete to latch onto. Victor Barbella plays Danny Dickler as a somewhat dim-witted, overage schoolboy. Stone has a likeable but vacant persona as Stan; he seldom makes eye contact with any of his fellow actors, instead gazing blankly out into the audience. This makes it seem as though he's not all there mentally, and his grinning when insulted by Rattazzi's Ira only adds to that impression.
Matthew Arkin plays Danny's cousin Arnold, the one who gets Stan in trouble in regard to the stolen car. The actor effectively inhabits this sleazy character but can't quite overcome the limitations of the writing. Gabrielle Maisels rounds out the cast as Rachel "Rocky" Gorelick, Stan's ex-girlfriend with whom he attempts a reconciliation.
The scene between Rachel and Stan at the beginning of the second act is quite poignant, yet it feels like it's from another play, introducing as it does a whole new set of circumstances without directly referencing what has come immediately before it. Though the reasons for this eventually become clear, it's still an awkward scene, even if it does help to flesh out the character of Stan Cohen by illustrating how his inability to adjust to change or to spend money for the things he wants most in life are his tragic flaws. Maisels portrays the one sympathetic character in the entire play, making palpable the hurt and disappointment that Rachel feels as Stan keeps saying and doing the wrong things. Unfortunately, this scene is also overwritten, and the direction is rather static; the two characters often face away from each other during their long, heartfelt speeches.