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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Primary Stages


  Noah Robbins and John Glover/ Ph: James Leynse

Jonathan Tolins’ Secrets of the Trade is less than the sum of its parts, but when an actor of John Glover’s stature is one of those parts, it’s a must-see regardless. It’s no secret that the Tony-winning Glover is an outstanding actor, but he’s often tucked into supporting roles. Here, though, he takes center stage, as a theatrical wunderkind whose power and influence – and withholding of that same power and influence – mesmerize and frustrate a would-be impresario.
Glover’s Broadway bigwig, Martin Kerner, looms large in the life of show-obsessed only child Andrew Lipman (Noah Robbins) and his parents, curt, possessive Joanne (Amy Aquino) and encouraging, uncritical Peter (Mark Nelson). A letter the 16-year-old Andrew writes to his idol, looking for summer work, goes unanswered. But the call comes two years later, as Andrew prepares to enter Harvard. Andrew is dazzled by “Marty,” who takes him to lunch at Café des Artistes and plies him with life lessons in the guise of brittle witticisms. The Lipmans, however, are hoping for something more concrete – which we think will happen at the close of Act I, as Marty, someone whom Andrew can confide in regarding his budding homosexuality, makes a move.
It’s not giving things away, however, to say that this is something of a tease. Marty is an incorrigible flirt, something his longtime assistant, Bradley (Bill Brochtrup), knows only too well. The problem with Secrets of the Trade is that Tolins is, too. The play spans the Reagan 80s, as a diminished Broadway subsisted on soft-boiled West End musicals, a problem for Marty as he mounts a tuner based on the hard-hitting movie satire Network. That’s enough of a backdrop for a showbiz story (what we see of the capsizing production is hysterical), but Tolins also brings in society’s rightward drift, the AIDS crisis and outing in short, breathless scenes. The emotional momentum of the show, riveting earlier on as the Lipmans are dragged into the maelstrom of Marty, sags as the playwright piles it on.
That said, the play, an import from Los Angeles, is never less than engaging and directed at a nice clip by Mark Shakman, who keeps set designer Mark Worthington and lighting designer Mike Durst bustling with multiple changes. Aided by pointed rearrangements in hairstyling and Alejo Vietti’s costumes, the 19-year-old Robbins, who shone briefly in last season’s Brighton Beach Memoirs revival, ages backwards and forwards as Andrew and lays a credible foundation for the man he becomes. Aquino and Nelson are terrific as the Lipmans, who feel the burden of Andrew’s dreams and their own unfulfilled desires, and when Brochtrup finally gets a word in edgewise he makes it count. The lion-maned Glover, however, is the main event. Tolins has dedicated Secrets of the Trade to his teachers; I’d say they get a mixed grade, while Glover earns an A. 


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