Excepted from a full-length review on Neals Paper. Reprinted by kind permission.
Jeffrey Coon and Jennie Eisenhower ace their roles as Gomez and Morticia Addams in Dann Dunn’s production of THE ADDAMS FAMILY for Media Theatre because they each have the good sense to play eccentricity as an integral trait of their characters and not as a set of quirks or tics that smack of hammy exaggeration and force, rather than earn or invite, laughs.
Coon exudes suave urbanity as Gomez. The light Spanish accent he affects adds a touch of the exotic to his portrayal of the Addams patriarch as a romantic charmer with an old-world flare. Gomez’s predilection for brandishing rapiers comes across as the genteel pastime of one who relishes the chivalry of an earlier day. His penchant for collecting instruments of torture from the Spanish Inquisition, such the beautifully carved chair that can disembowel an adversary with one touch of a lever, demonstrates a connoisseur’s insistence on completeness and authenticity. Coon’s Gomez is not so much weird as idiosyncratic. Within the context of his world, the Addams manse, which he rarely leaves, he is a paragon of taste who shows ardor for his wife and devotion to his children. At home, Gomez’s oddities are conventions, and Coon cunningly plays them as such.
Jennie Eisenhower is no less canny. Wearing Morticia’s signature black dress, the bodice of which, costume designer Xiachen Zhou, taking a cue from THE ADDAMS FAMILY script, cut down to Venezuela, Eisenhower combines the sexiness of Jane Fonda and the maternal reliability of Donna Reed.
Her portrayal helps Dunn realize some of the stickier parts of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book. The domestic dust-up between Morticia and Gomez, with daughter Wednesday (Lauren Cupples) as instigator, usually plays as a flimsy subplot to the show’s fish-out-of-water story, with Wednesday’s Midwestern fiancé (Jake Glassman) and his Babbitty Ohio family as the flounder, but Eisenhower endows Morticia with such genuine pathos, the device has some intensity that gives the musical more texture.
Morticia, although considered the female lead of THE ADDAMS FAMILY, never registered as an important or even mildly interesting character in the Broadway or touring production of the show. Eisenhower changes that perception. Her Morticia makes an indelible mark that informs and adds to the show.
Coon and Eisenhower are not the only ones among Dunn’s unanimously adroit cast that let the comedy flow naturally from their macabre characters rather than overemphasizing oddity or strangeness. Cupples, as Wednesday, and J.D. Triolo, as Pugsley, are also deft in the way they establish individual ‘normality’ while being altogether ooky. Even Bill Vargus, in a stylized performance, economically limits Lurch’s ghoulish repertoire to a glacially slow stiff-legged walk and some unintelligible but expressive grunts that make the character funny without overdoing shtick or going too far over the top.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY is such a familiar piece, and beloved by many for various reasons, Brickman, Elice, and composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa took on a gigantic challenge when they undertook placing Charles Addams’s cartoon family in a musical. Dann Dunn’s production of THE ADDAMS FAMILY deserves high praise. Coon, Eisenhower, Cupples, and Triolo, even Triolo at age 12, are consummate artists, but Dunn, as director guided them deftly to playing the Addamses as straight and as sincerely as possible by making character traits seem comme il faut instead of self-consciously outlandish.
Dunn also does a remarkable job as a choreographer. His opening dances for the living Addamses and their ancestors from various periods are witty and evocative. They set a tone for comedy while showing the class and quality the production maintains throughout its duration. In general, Dunn’s production is lively and contains many sequences that cause theatrical sparks to fly. The only difficulty is in some book scenes that bog down the action, particular passages in which the in-laws confer among each other.
Blessedly, such lapses are short and infrequent. For the most part, Dunn’s production finds the fun in “The Addams Family” and is a satisfying entertainment with several instances that go beyond amusing to rousing and exciting.
Lippa’s score is bright and versatile. The composer begins his overture by including a few bars of the well-known theme from “The Addams Family” TV show, snaps and all, but he proceeds to a high-energy selection of tunes and production numbers that give the cast, particularly Cupples and Fraelich the chance to shine, and Dunn the opportunity to create some engaging dances.
Fun is the ultimate result of Dunn’s production. The few dry patches don’t matter at all compared to entertainment Coon, Eisenhower, and company provide with Gomez-like brio. [Media Theatre, 104 E. State Street, Media, PA] September 24-November 2, 2014; mediatheatre.org.