Off-Broadway's Primary Stages serves up "Secrets Of The Trade," a new behind-the-scenes showbiz tale, as its first offering of the season. Time Out New York contributing critic David Cote filed the following report.
Jonathan Tolins’ "Secrets of the Trade" opens early this season, but already it stands out as a winner. This showbiz coming-of-age tale is a crackling comedy-drama about Broadway, family ties and the high cost of experience. In more than one interview, Tolins has declared the new work his favorite, and it’s easy to see why.
Besides being an excellent showcase for Tolins’ smart, affecting dialogue and clever, expectation-reversing plotting, director Matt Shakman’s production boasts one of the sturdiest acting ensembles currently in New York.
Noah Robbins, last seen on Broadway in the revival of Neil Simon’s "Brighton Beach Memoirs," pulls off an acting feat, portraying his character -- precocious Broadway fan Andrew Lipman -- from ages 16 to 26. With subtle calibrations of posture and attitude, Robbins, who is 19, makes the journey from smart-alecky teen to wised-up adult utterly convincing.
The young performer has more than a match in John Glover, the wonderfully suave and witty character actor who plays Martin Kerner, a veteran Broadway playwright and director who takes Andrew under his wing.
It turns out to be rather cold and dangerous under that wing, since Martin is prone to egomaniacal mood swings and temper tantrums. You know, your basic Broadway personality.
Tolins balances a bushel of dramatic genres -- backstage drama, family story, gay coming-of-age tale -- with elegance and economy. Mark Nelson and Amy Aquino are marvelously three-dimensional as Andrew’s loving and supportive, yet needy parents.
Glover gleefully nibbles on the scenery, painting an indelible portrait of a showman from a vanished age, one for whom sexuality is private and showbiz trumps personal loyalty.
Most of us have had a mentor who taught us about life, for better or worse. Here, our young hero discovers that the theatrical trade’s most closely guarded secrets are ones you may wish you never learned.