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The Pearl Theatre Company Presents "A Taste of Honey" by Shelagh Delaney
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The Pearl Theatre Company Presents "A Taste of Honey" by Shelagh Delaney

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The Pearl Theatre Company
Hal Brooks, Artistic Director
Jess Burkle, Managing Director


A Taste of Honey
(Production Website)

By Shelagh Delaney
Directed by Austin Pendleton

The Pearl Theatre
555 West 42nd Street
NY, NY 10036

Rachel Botchan, Rebekah Brockman, Bradford Cover
John Evans Reese, Ade Otukoya

Musicians, “The Blackbirds”:
Max Boiko on Trumpet
Phil Faconti on Guitar
Walter Stinson on Bass

Scenic Design: Harry Feiner
Costume Design: Barbara A. Bell
Lighting Design: Eric Southern
Sound Design and Music Supervision: Jane Shaw
Music Direction: Phil Faconti
Production Dramaturg: Kate Farrington
Casting: Jessi Blue Gormezano
Director of Production: Gary Levinson
Production Stage Manager: April Ann Kline
Production Manager/Tech. Director: Gary Levinson
Press: Blake Zidell & Associates

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 24, 2016 Matinee

The Pearl Theatre Company has a winning production, A Taste of Honey, a 1958 English play by Shelagh Delaney, who was inspired by Terence Rattigan and Samuel Beckett’s plays of the rebellious social norms in the 1950’s. Those of us who are fans of The Pearl are familiar with Rachel Botchan and Bradford Cover, both favorably reviewed on these pages in great works like The Philanderer, The Bald Soprano, and Uncle Vanya. In this play, Ms. Botchan is a down-on-her-luck, 40-ish mother, struggling to pay rent for herself and her budding artist daughter, Jo. The adult here is the teenage Jo, very centered and very independent, and she rejects her mother’s irrepressible need for attention from slick suitors. Helen dresses to reveal décolletage, and Jo dresses to reveal her bohemian intelligence. Together in their Manchester flat, Jo is the lightning to Helen’s thunder. Insults and disapprovals fly.

When Peter (Mr. Cover) arrives to openly seduce Helen and distance himself and his lover from Jo, the air is thick with sadness, as Helen leaps after Peter’s proposal and pockets of cash, like she might lose her winning lottery ticket. In the midst of mayhem, Jo meets a genuinely warm and generously giving sailor, named Jimmy (Ade Otukoya), who happens to be black. With nary a nod to 50’s social norms, Jo and Jimmy have a happy fling, and it’s wonderful to see Jo with such vibrancy. Unfortunately for Jo, her dreams are dashed when Jimmy goes back to his ship and keeps sailing on, before Jo finds she’s pregnant. The resilient Jo makes a compromise for love and finds the bright, young, gay Geoffrey (John Evans Reese), who will care for her during childbirth and beyond, though she surely knows that one day he’ll move on, as well.

A jazz trio, called “The Blackbirds”, on trumpet, guitar, and bass, plays English music hall tunes at side stage and even on Helen and Jo’s worn couch. Their upbeat lyrics were occasionally sung by the actors, but with little success, as these actors mainly perform in non-vocal roles, and a professional vocalist, side stage, would have been well served. The two, brief opening-act concerts were, however, refreshingly elevating. As Helen, I found Ms. Botchan too over-the-top garrulous and repetitive in the tone of angst, but she had her highlights, especially in the first dialogue, at home, with Peter. Mr. Cover’s Peter was too slick and seasoned, evocative of “red light district” mannerisms. His discovery that Jo was a teen, older than he expected, was brushed aside in staccato putdowns. But, Ms. Brockman, as Jo, was instantaneously absorbed in the mind and mood of a young woman struggling to survive, while holding on to her ideals and persona. She would not give up this baby, and she would give it a loving home, unlike the revolving addresses, which Helen had called home. Mr. Otukoya will be a rising star, with his natural, charismatic stage presence and acting appeal. Mr. Reese, as well, portrayed Geoffrey as both vulnerable and stalwart, a perfect soulmate, for a time, for Jo.

Austin Pendleton, Director, brought in a superb design cast, and the jazz trio was a fascinating enhancement of the play. His direction of Jo, Jimmy, and Geoffrey was astute, while Ms. Botchan and Mr. Cover would thrive better in plays more appropriate to their exceptional talents. In the original, 1960 Broadway production, Angela Lansbury was Helen, and Peter was portrayed by Nigel Davenport, a few years younger. Harry Feiner’s scenic design is superb, with the spotlight shifting from the spare kitchen and living quarters to the open space of Jo and Jimmy’s romance. Barbara A. Bell’s eclectic costumes, as well, strikingly delineate Helen (before and after her marital shopping sprees) and Jo’s (artist and maternity outfits) divergent lifestyles, as well as Peter (dandy suit) and Geoffrey’s (student-styled), while Jimmy’s retro sailor outfit was stunning. Eric Southern’s lighting and Jane Shaw’s sound were impeccable, and Ms. Shaw also supervised the melodic musicians. Kudos to the late Shelagh Delaney for this remarkable play that tackled millennial social topics over a half century ago.

Rebekah Brockman and Rachel Botchan
in "A Taste of Honey"
Courtesy of Russ Rowland

Ade Otukoya and Rebekah Brockman, with the Band
in "A Taste of Honey"
Courtesy of Russ Rowland

Rebekah Brockman and John Evans Reese
in "A Taste of Honey"
Courtesy of Russ Rowland

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at