Performing Arts: Theater
April 16, 2022
One family ages, expands and contracts over the space of 10 decades in Noah Haidle's congenial Birthday Candles at the American Airlines Theater.

Starring Debra Messing (Ernsetine), the audience journeys through an unremarkable life that mirrors so many other families struggling to find love, fulfillment and happiness.

The show opens on Ernestine's birthday. Planted next to her mother in the kitchen (designed by Christine Jones), they bake the traditional birthday cake. Adored by her mother, Ernestine wants to do no less than astonish the world. Young and full of promise, her innocence is shattered by her mother's untimely death.

Scenes float ahead from decade to decade, designated by a slight light fade. Many of the episodes revolve around the making of the birthday cake: on one occasion it's for Ernestine's daughter, on another time it's for a grandchild and later,  for herself.

A rotating cast assumes the roles of relations morphing through the years. Lighthearted and thoughtful, the sometimes sentimental conversations touch on how people relate to one another through personal ritual--whether it's painting nails, baking a cake, measuring one's height in the door jamb or playing pin-the-tail on the donkey.

Refreshingly, Birthday Candles takes a clear-eyed view of spouses and children. Frequently, families don't turn out according to plan, but that's no reason to deny them entry into  the fold. An equal portion of disappointment and triumph reign throughout the 8 decades.

In one of the funnier gags, Ernestine's neighbor,  Enrico Colantoni (Kenneth) pursues her from the highschool prom until their twilight years. A couple of people around me nearly choked laughing when a very old Kenneth contemplates kneeling on the kitchen floor in front of Ernestine. Gentle and playful, the racially mixed cast in Birthday Candlesexudes a comfortable symbiosis and extends a warm hug to the audience.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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