By Tulis McCall
I don’t remember feeling quite so depressed after seeing a show as I did seeing “I Can Get It For You Wholesale.” This is another in the John Randolph Memorial list of “You must never blame the actors.” Indeed, if there is a reason to see this show it IS the actors (and the orchestra). Beginning with Santino Fontana as Harry Bogen to Hayley Podschun who plays a variety of parts – every single actor is perfection. On this postage stamp sized stage they live out lives of hope and despair. They sing, they dance, they move tables and chairs without a hitch.
And then there is the story itself. A shyster betrays the striking shipping clerks in a wholesale clothing business and invents a business all his own. He undercuts them and saves his home. And we are off. Soon he is branching out into the garment business in bigger and bigger ways. So big that he can afford to cheat on his permanent girl Ruthie Rivkin (Rebecca Naomi Jones) with a new infatuation Martha Mills (Joy Woods). As the money starts coming in Harry has no trouble spending it on gifts for his mother, referred to only as “Mrs. Bogen” (Judy Kuhn) and more extravagant gifts to Ms. Mills. When his partner Teddy (Greg Hildreth) calls him out, Harry transfers cash on hand into a new account in the name of his other partner Meyer Bushkin (Adam Chanler-Berat) who will take the hit when the poop hits the proverbial fan. Harry will land on his feet, but without friends, romance (after 13 years Ruthie figures it out) and no family who wants him.
In the program (WHEN can we stop using QR codes for programs and menus – why not take a page out of the Brits and charge for them) the Producing Artistic Director Jill Rafson asks that we expand our thinking. Instead of recoiling from Harry, why don’t we consider what we would do in his shoes. What would we really do?
Good point, and it might be valid if there were any moments in the script where Harry’s thought process was made clear. In other plays, books etc., we are often dragged along the route and see for ourselves where the road divides. We can feel the temptation from each side of the trail. There was nothing like that in this story. We meet Harry as a young man who remembers being robbed of his earnings as a messenger for the rag business. As an adult, when faced with eviction, Harry steps on the wrong treadmill and never looks back.
He never waivers, so there is never a conflict. Oops. Like some public figures we know he plows ahead, blaming those around him for the mistakes he makes and insisting that he himself come out smelling like a rose. Which he does if you can call being alive and alone a good thing.
It was all too deflating for me. An unhappy story at time when we don’t need it. Even more odd is that old Broadway tale that Barbara Streisand stopped the original show in 1962 when she performed the song “Miss Marmelstein” (played impeccably by Julia Lester here). Hard to figure out why the big kafuffle since it is a nothing song. More compelling is her solo with chorus of “What Are They Doing To Us Now” which finally moves us to the world beyond Harry that is affected by his every mismanaged move. There is a story there – in plain sight. And it is overlooked.
Instead we are asked to watch a man infect himself and his loved ones with the virus of greed.
No thanks. IF I want examples of that I know where to look.
I Can Get It For You Wholesale – book by Jerome Weidman with revisions by John Weidman, music and lyrics by Harold Rome, directed by Trip Cullman
WITH Adam Chanler-Berat, Eddie Cooper, Victor de Paula Rocha, Santino Fontana, Adam Grupper, Darren Hayes, Greg Hildreth, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Judy Kuhn, Julia Lester, Hayley Podschun, Sarah Steele and Joy Woods
Choreography by Ellenore Scott, Scenic design by Mark Wendland, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, Adam Honoré, Sun Hee Kil, Ellenore Scott, score arranged and adapted by David Chase, and music direction and orchestrations by Jacinth Greywoode.
at Classic Stage Company and opening will be Monday October 30 for a limited engagement through Sunday December 3, 2023.