TO THE MOON (1812 Productions): An homage to The Great One, who was not so great after all

Scott Greer and Anthony Lawton in TO THE MOON.

Scott Greer and Anthony Lawton in TO THE MOON.

What do I remember about Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners? The current 1812 Productions production of TO THE MOON was about to offer a trip down memory lane to a place I’d mostly forgotten. Over the years, The Honeymooners, the 50’s sitcom starring Jackie Gleason, has become iconic. And catch phrases like, “To the moon, Alice,” are known by people who never saw the original.

But what does it mean to go to the moon? Is it a journey of discovery, or as used in the original The Honeymooners, a threat to knock someone out?  This new play, inspired by material made available to 1812 Productions Producing Artistic director, Jennifer Childs, by Greg Marx, son of the show’s head writer Marvin Marx, chooses to take us on the journey with a guy who just wants to be like Jackie Gleason.

After seven years playing a standardized patient, current diagnosis depression, Scottie (Scott Greer) has had it. Some of his own problems creep through as he answers the questions of a series of wannabe doctors with strange accents (all played by Sean Roach). He has been told how much he looks like Jackie Gleason, and now it seems, Scottie has a chance to audition for a Honeymoon.com commercial based on The Honeymooners.

Like Gleason’s Ralph Kramden, Scottie has big ideas, bigger than his budget, bigger than his ability, but not, as we’re perhaps too often reminded, bigger than his waistline. With the possibility of a little money, he buys a smoking jacket and golf clubs because Gleason had them, and a huge telescope because Gleason believed in aliens.

Scott Greer and Tracie Higgins

Scott Greer and Tracie Higgins

His wife Tracie (Tracie Higgins), much like Audrey Meadow’s Alice, doesn’t think much of his plans, eventually getting fed up enough to walk out, something Alice might have wished to do, but would have gone upstairs to visit her best friend Trixie instead.

Lawton (Anthony Lawton), his best friend, a la the Art Carney role, appears in a series of ever weirder costumes, including hot dogs, condiments, and James Madison. When it seems that Lawton has succeeded where Scottie has not, Scottie lets loose with a barrage of insults that leaves him alone with neither wife nor best friend to comfort him.

The central set (production design by Jorge Cousineau) is a kitchen very much like the Kramden’s kitchen, with a microwave added, and a view through the window of the tenement fire escapes like those seen in the original show.

Some of the scenes, filmed in black and white, are projected on the screen above the set. They show Greer in his most Gleason-like as the Sad Sack (Gleason’s Poor Soul) and Scottie Van Salisbury (Gleason’s Reginald Van Gleason III).

So what is this TO THE MOON about? In the fifties, getting to the moon seemed impossible. Now that we’ve been there and back again, we know that while it was something we achieved it really hasn’t made any difference, except perhaps in fantasy stories that see it as a last resort for humankind.

The same is true for Scottie. Most of the show is about a hopeless dreamer trying to live up to his dreams and beyond his means until he has an ultimate recognition that while dreams are wonderful, life has to be lived here on earth. And meantime, don’t miss the priceless scene of Scottie and Lawton trying to make a cocktail for Tracie—perhaps a bit more Lucy than Gleason, but fun nevertheless.

Whether you were a fan of The Honeymooners, or have never seen more than a clip on YouTube, this homage to The Great One reminds us of what comedy used to be like.[1812 Productions, Christ Church Neighborhood House Theater, 20 N. American Street] April 16-May 17, 2015; 1812productions.org

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About the author

Naomi Orwin

Naomi Orwin is a freelance writer who has recently made Philadelphia her home. A native of New Jersey, who lived in Manhattan for many years to be close to her first love the theater, she enjoys getting to see as many plays, concerts and dance performances as she can. After years of teaching screenwriting, most recently at Drexel University, she is now focusing on her own writing about the arts, and developing a blog about what goes on behind the scenes in Philadelphia. Check her out at: offstagephilly.blogspot.com or nomiwrites.blogspot.com.