“Normal is what people call families that aren’t theirs.” This all-too-true line comes from the new, off-beat comedy The Bells of West 87th, which presented its world premiere at the Greenway Court Theatre in Hollywood, CA, on Saturday, September 7th. The hilarious and heartfelt show follows Molly Fein, a single woman approaching 40, who is desperate to find independence from her dysfunctional parents. With an extremely talented cast and a well-written script that depicts a family life that is identifiable for most, if not all, audiences, The Bells of West 87th is a show that is not to be missed this fall.
Written by TV writer Elin Hampton (Mad About You, Dream On, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), The Bells is a wonderful character piece that examines the Fein family in all of its dysfunctional glory. Molly Fein, the aforementioned daughter, struggles to maintain her sanity while taking care of the family business (managing a New York City apartment building), her manipulative and guilt-inducing mother, and her eccentric father, who is hearing impaired and pursing his dream of being a famous magician. To make matters worse, Molly’s parents have been separated for years, and her father (who lives next door) is under the impression that his estranged wife lives with their youngest daughter in Staten Island; in all actuality, his wife has been living with Molly and uses an intricate system of bells to track his whereabouts. For Molly, the only respite from her confinement has been an evening poetry class, where she met the man of her dreams. With the hope of starting a new chapter of independence in her life, Molly must face the biggest test of all: introducing her boyfriend to her parents.
The entire cast worked in perfect harmony, delivering dialogue and expelling their frustrations towards one another in ways that only truly family can. For many of the cast members and creators involved in the show, this was a reunion of sorts, as many previously worked together on the hit TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including Hampton, James Marsters (playing Molly’s boyfriend Chris), Dagney Kerr (portraying Molly’s younger sister Maxine), and Executive Producer David Fury. While Buffy’s Juliet Landau was originally billed to play Molly, actress Cameron Meyer superbly filled the role, imbuing the character with the frustration and duty that come with family but also the frenetic need to flee the coup and be her own person. Meyer’s occasional asides to the audience, delivering her internal monologue by way of her emotionally charged poetry, provided moments of hilarity and, at other times, painful truth. Marsters‘ soft-spoken and perpetually positive Chris was a true delight, grounding Molly’s deep neurosis caused by years of familial stress. His ability to find the best in each character breathed hope into each scene and kept the characters glued together. In addition, Robert Towers and Carol Locatell as Molly’s parents excelled in their roles, creating characters that were so real that you could swear they were imitating your own parents. At the same time, their off-the-wall characters never lost their sense of humanity, often letting their own vulnerability show through their rough exteriors. Last, but certainly not least, Kerr as family favorite Maxine delivered a fantastic, modern-day interpretation of Ibsen’s Nora, illustrating that even the most “normal” among us has their flaws.
Overall, The Bells hits eerily close to home and will leave audiences identifying with and rooting for Molly, who – more than anything else – simply wants to be acknowledged and then set free. It is one of the most refreshing and entertaining performances that I have seen in years, and writer Hampton should be commended for bringing such an amazing piece of theatre to life.
I highly encourage audiences to see The Bells of West 87th. The show will play at the Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles from September 7th through October 13th, with performances every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening. There will be post-performance Q&As with the cast on September 15th and 29th, which are sure to be a real treat! Tickets are still available for $34, but they are going fast. Do not miss this evening of great theatre!
*Above photo by David Fury.