Beth Glover stars in Take Me Along at the Irish Repertory Theatre
Singing in the wilderness
By Jerry Tallmer
Mr. Fulcomtre, a hale and hearty English teacher of the long ago, always told us that Ah, Wilderness! was the best play Eugene ONeill ever wrote. Well, it was, in any event, the happiest playthe only happy playEugene ONeill ever wrote, an inside-out 180-degree inversion of the miserable Tyrones of Long Days Journey Into Night.
As such it was perfect fodder for Bob Merrill, Joseph Stern, and Robert Russell to turn into an amiable 1959 Broadway musical called Take Me Along, with totally dysfunctional James and Mary Tyrone transformed into Grant Wood-ish Nat and Essie Miller of Centerville, Connecticut, U.S.A.
Hes not a drunk and shes not shooting up. Theyre just lonely people trying to raise their kids, says beauteous Beth Glover, and Im the old-maid aunt whos in love with a drunk. There had to be at least one Irish drunk in an ONeill play.
The old-maid auntnot so old, reallyis Nat Millers sister Lily, and the neer-do-well gambler and ever-lapsing Irish drunk is Essie Millers brother Sid, a sometime newspaperman of sorts. For ten years, Sid has been asking Lily to marry him, and for ten years she has been stalling because he always disappoints her by falling back into booze.
The 1959 Broadway show Take Me Along was carried on the broad shouldersand broader comedyof Jackie Gleason as Sid (to Eileen Herlies Lily). When Beth Glover got the call to audition for Charlotte Moores current production of Take Me Along at the fine little Irish Repertory Theater on West 22nd Street, it was for the role of Essie Miller, wife of Nat, mother of three growing boys.
I remember thinking I was right for Lily, says Mrs. Glover, but you never tell a director that. Then Charlotte called and asked me to audition for Lily. And Charlotte sang with me during the auditionMake the Man Love Me, from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the perfect song for Lily.
It is not hard to love Beth Glover, the once-upon-a-time Miss University of Southern Mississippi in her hometown of Hattiesburg, cradle of the Confederacy. She told that story in Impaled on a Magnolia, her rueful, funny, truth-telling one-woman autobiographical show thatstarting at Westbeth and then Roses Turn, on Grove Street, opened doors to her as an actress. She played all the parts of her whole family and everyone elseincluding my crazy pageant coachin this saga of growing up in beauty pageants, and eating disorders, and how to get out of Mississippi.
It also enabled her to quit her day job at a midtown Manhattan bank.
Theres no Irish in Beth Glover, so far as Beth knows, but there is some Cherokee or Choctaw in me by way of a great-grandmother. Not to be confused with my step-great-grandmother, a horrible old woman who dipped snuff and spit it at people at family reunions.
The Lily of the Irish Reps Take Me Along credits Charlotte Moore with widening the show from its emphasis on Sid (Don Stephenson) and LilyI feel almost naked on stage as Lilyto equal highlights on Nat (William Parry) and Essie (Donna Bullock), and the puppy love and sexual misadventures of their 17-year-old son Richard (Teddy Eck) in his pursuit of 16-year-old neighboring Muriel (Emily Skeggs), the papa-fearing Mss Goody Two Shoes who could, if she would, provide Richard with Paradise enow.
The mild-mannered, loving Lily of Take Me Along has lately, she says, been playing a lot of angry women, I dont know why. One of these angry women is Ellie Vanderlyn of Glimpses of the Moon, the Jazz Age musicalbased on the Edith Wharton novelin which Beth has been appearing Monday nights at the Algonquin Hotels Oak Room.
In it she has, among other tart lines, this one: Genius is wasted on a woman who cant do anything with her hair.
Isnt that horrible?, says Ms. Glover. And one night it stopped the show.
TAKE ME ALONG. By Bob Merrill (music and lyrics), Joseph Stein, and Robert Russell (book). Adapted from Eugene ONeills Ah, Wilderness! Directed by Charlotte Moore. Through April 14th at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, (212) 727-2737, or www.irishrep.org.