Ralph Kramden was a hard guy to like. I recall vague sensations of discomfort when “The Honeymooners” would show up as a segment of the “Jackie Gleanson Show” on Saturday night TV. Did people really find humor in this mean, loud brute? He was a thug who evoked fear, lived in squalor and seemed forever on the verge of a heart attack.
I have no idea whether Michael Sommers had a similar experience with the character and the show — both Gleason creations. Regardless, Sommers’ twist on the old TV classic considers its principal character on harsh terms.
“To The Moon” at Open Eye Figure Theatre preserves many of the comic tropes and images of “The Honeymooners,” but Sommers and script writer Josef Evans find a modern tragic spin. They are on to something, even if the production meanders uncertainly to its destination.
Maren Ward plays Jackie Ward — the stand-in for Kramden — with keen awareness of Gleason’s tics and gestures. Kimberly Richardson creates an indelible replica of Ralph’s “old buddy, old pal” Ed Norton. Richardson’s rubber-band limbs and malleable face are perfect, and she moves with the lubricated grace of a modern dancer (which she is).
The two guys (played by these women) are on the verge of hatching a grand plan, scheming on how they can get out of the house for the nightly lodge meeting and getting busy in the kitchen to make a cake for Alice (Annie Enneking), who is returning from a stint in a mental hospital — or is it a prison for the criminally insane?
Emily Zimmer fills out the foursome as Trixie Norton, Ed’s demure and perfectly matched innocent dope of a wife.
In three episodes, this group feints at familiar “Honeymooners” bits, but they are merely displays rather than pieces that take us anywhere. The play’s conclusion seems foregone. Sommers’ production suffers from dramatic inertia.
Sommers scenic eye, his ability to create imagery and intrigue through stage magic is evident. But he and Evans have not extrapolated the types with an identifiable purpose. Greater economy and tension would help Sommers and Evans clarify just what they want to say.
“To the Moon” puts together a good deal of material, but ultimately remains earthbound.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299 • On Twitter: @GraydonRoyce