note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
When aspiring playwright Michael Towers was writing his master’s thesis/play, he became discouraged when his teaching adviser, multi-award winning playwright Ronan Noone, told him to throw away his script, abandon it, and start again with something new.
. Reluctantly, Towers did just that, and he’s thankful 18 months later. He not only earned his master’s degree, but has received enthusiastic responses to his two-act, 90-minute play, “Five Down, One Across,” currently appearing at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. .
The affable 39-year-old Towers, who is an award-winning artistic director at Westford Academy, couldn’t curb his enthusiasm during a recent post-show talkback and Q&A session that included Artistic Director Kate Snodgrass, Director Sidney Friedman and the cast. .
He was inspired to write this play based on two of his wife’s friends, he said, adding he felt their story needed to be told. "There’s lots of real life drama in here for me,” he added.
The play focuses on Betty, (Chloe Leamon) a high-strung, divorced, successful Wellesley College teacher and activist and the only child of her ailing 85-year-old mother, Madeleine (Alice Duffy). For many years, Betty has kept her divorce, career, and lesbian partnership secret from her mother but is faced with revealing all after relocating her mother to her Brookline apartment. She hopes to place her in a nearby nursing home as soon as possible. Betty becomes increasingly exasperated with her mother’s stubbornness and the fact she must confess all, including that her 17-year-old son Christopher lives with his father.
Forcing Betty’s hand is her live-in partner, Sharon (Stephanie Clayman) who delivers Betty an ultimatum - tell Madeleine about them or she’s leaving.
Meanwhile, it’s Tuesday, traditional Taco Night, at Betty’s apartment, in which she, Sharon, and their lesbian friends, Kitten (Ellen Peterson) and Ramona, (Jessica Webb) enjoy their coming out freedom. They must suppress themselves because of Madeleine, but Kitten, who is butch, foul-mouthed and painfully honest, wise cracks, “I have gender identity disorder,” while freely spewing earthy double entendres. Her ladylike partner, Ramona, a buyer, tries to maintain an even keel throughout the evening.
Towers says the play mirrors “Kitten” and “Ramona,” but he creates additional layers of controversy here. The seemingly addled Madeleine, who enjoys doing crossword puzzles, has her own agenda. She repeats sporadically, “I came here to save you;” while Betty agonizes on how to confess everything to her.
The climax comes to a boil when Betty’s son Christopher (Ross Neuenfeldt) suddenly asks to come over and closes the first act by revealing his own problems.
Confrontational scenes between mother and daughter become increasingly heated, while discussions between mother and son add healing.
Towers has created an interesting structure, whereby the characters simultaneously carry on separate conversations, thus stepping up the action and tone. Duffy, who magnificently portrays Madeleine, said afterward that it was hell at times for her, but she obviously surpasses it with aplomb - as does the rest of this talented cast. “Five Down, One Across” may not appeal to everyone, but it’s a compellingly honest play about contemporary issues.
BOX INFO: Two-act, 90-minute play written by Michael Towers, appearing through October 24 at the Boston Playwrights Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Performances are Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets are $30; seniors, $25; students with valid IDs, $10. For more information, visit bostonplaywrights.org or call 866-811-4111.