Theater Review: ‘Secrets of the Trade’ Entertaining But Convoluted

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Young Andy Lippman (Alexander Zenoz), right, an aspiring writer and actor has plenty of growing up to do if he is to benefit from the wisdom of his idol, Marty Kerner (Bill Schwartz), in Secrets of the Trade, currently playing at Island City Stage in Fort Lauderdale. Credit: Robert Figueroa

For many young people, coming out is the most tumultuous stop on life’s journey. But, in Jonathan Tolins’ Secrets of the Trade, which opened last weekend at Island City Stage, it’s just a bump in the road for a young man who dreams of a career in the Broadway theater.

Young Andy Lippman (Alexander Zenoz) eats and breathes theater. The Long Island teen started seeing Broadway shows early with the encouragement of his architect father, Peter (Andy Librach), and wannabe dancer-turned-English teacher mother, Joanne (Niki Fridh). With his parents’ encouragement, he adoringly writes to his idol, Broadway writer/director Martin Kerner (Bill Schwartz), in the hopes of securing a summer job.

Andy’s letter goes unanswered for two years until he is an 18-year-old freshman at Harvard. An invitation to lunch leads to a complex relationship that evolves in fits and starts for seven years. “Marty” is both mentor and nemesis, dropping into the boy’s life from time to time, milking the company of his wide-eyed fan, then tormenting the young man with his unpredictable artist’s temperament.

The relationship seems to take a new twist when Andy confesses to Marty about his love for a fellow student, a boy. Now that Andy was a “man,” they could finally communicate as equals, Marty professes. Yet, it’s never that simple, Andy learns, when dealing with a Broadway impresario, who either completely compartmentalizes his sexuality or is a victim of his tormented brilliance.

In his first leading professional role, Zenoz, a recent grad of Miami New World School of the Arts, is perfectly cast, brimming with youthful exuberance and naivety.

As the relationship with Marty goes sour and Andy must deal with his homosexuality, Zenoz quickly trades that hopefulness for the thinly veiled cynicism of a young adult who thinks he has seen it all.

Schwartz has the most challenging role. We’re never really sure why Marty takes such a liking to Andy — the promise of developing a young protégé or the lustful urges of a dirty old man — and Schwartz approaches the role too cautiously.

Librach and Fridh, along with Larry Buzzeo as Marty’s limp wristed, sharp talking assistant, inject much of the comedy in Tolins’ script. Andy Rogow’s fast-paced direction keeps the show moving, along with clever set design from Michael McClain.

Island City Stage currently mounts its productions in the intimate Empire Stage space. Through the use of a rolling table, a couple of chairs, curtains and folding doors, the scenes quickly and convincingly change from the Lippman family dining room, Andy’s Harvard dorm room and Marty’s apartment to the interior of several theaters.

The main weakness is Tolins’ play. It’s just too long and convoluted and, like his The Twilight of the Golds, presented at Broward Stage Door last fall, could benefit from some judicious editing without compromising the underlying themes.

Regardless, Rogow and his cast offer strong performances and an entertaining production that will be of interest to both Island City Stage’s LGBT and allied fans.

If You Go:

What: Secrets of the Trade by Jonathan Tollins

When: Thursday – Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. through Feb. 9

Where: Island City Stage at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler St. in Fort Lauderdale

How much: Tickets $30 at IslandCityStage.org


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