Elmer Rice, nee Reizenstein, received the 1929 Pulitzer Prize for his realistic profile of inner-city tenement dwellers. Directors Laurence Bryan and Keely Haddad-Null graft grotesque elements to the occasionally creaky script to dramatize the banal horror of crushing poverty, with mixed results.
The piece opens on a building’s inhabitants exchanging weather complaints as the conversation devolves to speculation about Mrs. Maurrant’s (Rebekka James) affair with the milkman (J.J. McDowell). Her daughter Rose (Melinda Ryba) fends off her married boss (Brian Peccia) while erstwhile would-be-lover Sam (Steve Wisegarver) fumes. The setup doesn’t require the ghostly figures floating through the set, stopping the action and foreshadowing already-detailed disasters.
James lacks the yearning for love and freedom the script is riddled with. Ryba and Wisegarver’s naturalism is refreshing, but they don’t nail the horror of the show’s climax. Though the show’s premiere was delayed, it still needs more time in the oven. (Lisa Buscani)
The National Pastime Theater with Clock Productions, 4139 N. Broadway, (773)327-7077, through May 8.