note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
. Sometimes, new plays sparkle with clever lines and have relevance to our lives, mirroring situations or crossroads in life’s travels and travails.
At the East Coast premiere of Joel Drake Johnson’s one-act play, “Four Places,” currently appearing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, the plot has rumblings of reality, but slowly tries to shock us with a family’s ugly situation, becoming more surreal than real.
“Four Places” is supposed to be a play about a family at a crossroads, in denial. Instead, it raises several eye-opening, seemingly implausible situations, leaving us at an intersection of unfinished byways.
The saving grace at Merrimack’s sparsely set production is Carole Monferdini, who gives a smashing performance as Peggy, a long-suffering, Irish Catholic wife and mother who tips a few Scotches and rum and cokes while coping with her alcoholic, unfaithful husband. Peggy is the voice of calm, an insightful, glib character, who bought a gallon of holy water when she visited the Vatican in Rome years ago, and uses it sparingly in special circumstances, such as making daughter Ellen happier by slipping spoonfuls of it into her food.
As strains of “Moon River” fill the air, the characters are seated in an automobile frame, then shift to a restaurant foyer, table, and ladies’ restroom- ergo, four physical places. Peggy’s professional, uptight, grown-up kids, Warren (John Wojda) and Ellen (Kate Udall) are taking Peggy to lunch on Ellen and Peggy’s usual Tuesday date. Peggy is suspicious from the outset,because Warren, a high school teacher, claims it’s a school holiday, so he decided to come along.
Slowly, pieces of this dysfunctional family emerge - accusations from Peggy’s and her husband’s unseen “schizophrenic” home aide, Patty, about Peggy’s bizarre behavior, and the couple’s tippling watered-down drinks.
Enter bubbly Barbie,(Laura Latreille), the waitress who fawns all over Peggy, her “favorite” customer, and whom Peggy later claims is “too familiar” with her. During their increasingly uncomfortable lunch date, these deeply flawed “adult children of aging parents, or older parent of adult children” reveal more about their own troubles and their parents’ shocking behavior.
As Warren reveals to Peggy that he has his “secret life,” Barb tells Warren she’s aware of his situation. Earlier, though, she barely knows him.
All too often, convenient coincidences occur that unleash yet another fact of mammoth impact: Barbie’s mom had an affair with Peggy’s husband; Peggy attempted to kill her husband; Peggy has potentially serious health issues; Warren, who’s bitterly divorced, isn’t as passive as he appears.
While there are bittersweet moments here, despite Monferdini’s outstanding performance, “Four Places” leaves us in limbo. Peggy’s offspring have spawned a plan to alleviate their parents‘ situation, but it’s a Band-Aid, lacking a longterm solution. The characters’ inner conflicts remain unresolved, leaving us with more questions.
BOX INFO: One-act, 80-minute play written by Joel Drake Johnson, directed by Artistic Director Charles Towers, appearing at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell, through Nov. 7: Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 31, 2,7 p.m.; Nov. 7 at 2 p.m.; post-show forums with actors, Oct. 28, Nov.4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25; senior, student, group discounts. Visit www.MerrimackRep.org or call 978-654-4678