Theatre Review: ‘Promises, Promises’ at the Arlington Players

(Top row L to R) Steve Dasbach, Richard Dew, and Michael Toth. Center: Sidney Davis. Photography by Peter Hill.

The Arlington Players (TAP) debuted their production of the 1968 musical Promises, Promises on October 5th at the Thomas Jefferson High Community Center. Director John Moran picked a strong script which lays out all the pieces for a great show.  Characters are written three-dimensionally, and the plot gradually pulls the audience in.  Although TAP’s rendition of this former Broadway-runner did not soar–several times while watching, I thought to myself “take it to the next level!  That was a great line, put it to work!”–the cast came through with a strong second act, ultimately allowing the audience to engage with the story and its leading man, Chuck Baxter.

Chip Crews, Lauren Palmer Kiesling, and Patrick M. Doneghy. Photography by Peter Hill.

Set in Manhattan in the radical sixties, Promises, Promises deals with the rise of sexual freedom. Infidelity is entirely normalized among the higher-ups at a life insurance company. These middle-aged married men will meet pretty girls at the office and see no quandary, aside from where to do the deed.  That’s where lowly employee Chuck Baxter comes in.  He soon becomes a V.I.P. around the office because his geography – he’s got a place just around the corner from one of the city’s most popular bars — and his marital status – he’s a bachelor with no roommates — intersect perfectly.  His key is passed quietly from man to man, and Chuck tolerates being ejected from his own home at night in hopes of a promotion.  He also hopes to catch the eye of Fran Kubelik, the girl from the cafeteria.  Lines are crossed, drinks and fights are had, and in the end, the unscrupulous get theirs.

…when Batra’s Marge MacDougall stepped onto the scene… I just sat there grinning as she rocked the busty, flirty widow with a New York accent thing.

The musical was based upon the screenplay The Apartment by Billy Walder and I.A.L. Diamond, as well as a book by Neil Simon.  Music for the show was supplied by Burt Bacharach, and lyrics by Hal David.

Patrick M. Doneghy seemed an odd choice for the lead role at first.  Chuck Baxter does an awful lot of singing, and on the night I saw the show Doneghy’s voice was not forceful or unique.  Also, he does not have the look of a sucker; sometimes I found his high-spirited dweebishness insincere.  His chemistry with Karen Batra, the actress who portrayed Marge MacDougall, redeemed him however, and his energy and focus achieved a balance in Act II.  I do commend him for much of what he did there.

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Fran Kubelik, Chuck’s romantic opposite played by Lauren Palmer Kiesling, was a difficult character to embrace.  In part I think this is a flaw of the script.  Kubelik’s near-constant mindset throughout the musical is “I am romantically frustrated,” and the audience hears about it plenty.  She doesn’t hold back much, and consequentially when it’s time for her to sing her emotions, my reaction was “this is redundant.”  An actor has to find a way to make this not the case.  Kiesling’s presentation of the character was akin to that of a petulant child, and I can definitely see what led her to that choice but I wish it had been otherwise.   I think she would have done well to explore the character’s strengths and vulnerabilities–and varying their visibility–particularly in a person so forthright about her irritation.

Patrick M. Doneghy and Karen Batra. Photography by Peter Hill.

A very bright point in Promises, Promises came when Batra’s Marge MacDougall stepped onto the scene.  I just sat there grinning as she rocked the busty, flirty widow with a New York accent thing.  I definitely want to see her again in other plays, perhaps in more central roles.  Dr. Dreyfuss (played by Chip Crews) and a very bit character, Mr. Eichelberger (Richard Dew), were also great compliments on the stage.  David Boleyn as J.D. Sheldrake was convincing as an alpha male and had one of the better male singing voices; I did not see his vulnerability enough in “Wanting Things,” however, the song where this stonewall of a man opens up.  This is an older man in the life insurance industry and death has to be on his mind all the time.  Younger women distract him from his own mortality, and I failed to see the urgency behind the empty gestures he makes towards Kubelik.

There were some issues with sound, noticeable but not glaring.  Mics did not reliably pick up actors’ voices, and the orchestra conducted by Matthew Martz drowned out the lyrics at several points.  Some of the better songs of the night were “It’s Our Little Secret,” “Where Can You Take A Girl?” “Christmas Party – Turkey Lurkey Time,” and “A Fact Can Be A Beautiful Thing.”

The New York skyline set piece was wonderfully crafted; a shout-out to Set Designer Dave Means and all who helped create it–someone should mass-produce a stick-on version for college dorm rooms.  The movable set pieces composing bars, restaurants, the apartment hallway, and Baxter’s apartment were also great, although transitions were not always so seamless.

The Arlington Players’ production of Promises, Promises could use some real fine-tuning, but there is great potential.

Running time: 2 hours with a fifteen-minute intermission.

Advisory:  Adult themes of sex, cheating, and suicide; language.

Promises, Promises will run on weekends (Fri-Sun) from now until October 20th at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, located at 125 S. Old Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia 22204.   Please click here  to purchase tickets.

About Allie J. Lundquist

Allie J. Lundquist is a recent Muhlenberg College graduate with a BA in English Literature. A sizable portion of high school was spent in theatre class and in auditoriums, learning and rehearsing. Although she pursued other interests in higher education, the theatre craft was always in the perifery, and now she's dipping a foot in again. She hopes that the perspective her reviews come from, that of the common man, is appreciated by the readers of the MTG.