note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Critics are raving - justifiably - about a 90-minute, one-act, adult dramedy that is attention-grabbing from the outset to the finale. At first glance, the set of Zeitgeist’s “Private Fears in Public Places” doesn’t excite. A plain, wooden table with six chairs occupy the center of the floor, with a makeshift wooden bar behind it.
Dramatist Alan Ayckbourn’s characters aren’t outstanding, either. There are five middle-aged people, all lonely, living everyday lives in London, and a younger, Bible-toting woman who doesn’t grab our attention, either. They’re our friends, neighbors, cousins, who become linked together through circumstance, and, perhaps fate, with a few twists and turns that touch and affect their very existence.
What appears to be mundane evolves into an interconnected series of situations that are hidden beneath the surface, slowly surprising us, and in one case, downright shocking us.
Director David J. Miller, who also helms the production’s sparse scenic design, is like a master puppeteer, whose characters flow from one scene into another, without losing a minute as they assume their place before the previous scene ends, and it works flawlessly. Keep in mind, all of the characters, who meet happenstance, become intrinsically entwined, meshed with Chris Fournier’s deliberate, associated lighting and Walter Eduardo’s synchonized sound design.
A small fly in the ointment here is the constantly changing, vividly hued backdrop, a door with several panes that illuminates bright red, fuschia, blue, and green, allegedly conjuring up time and mood changes, but aren’t necessary.
This cast of seemingly blah characters is superb. White-haired Bill Salem is outstanding as patient barkeep Ambrose, who listens to everyone’s problems and has an outstanding problem of his own - an onery, elderly dad at home, whom we hear spouting unspeakable, foul-mouthed demands, but never see. We also realize Ambrose has endured two heart-breaking losses - his mother and his beloved.
Robert Bonotto is believably mousey as Stewart, an unsuccessful real estate salesman who lives at home with his spinster sister, Imogen, portrayed intensely by Shelley Brown. Imogen has a secret life, searching desperately for love by answering personal ads, that disappoint her time and again.
Then there’s Nicola, (nicely portrayed by Christine Power), a confident, attractive businesswoman whose longtime, unemployed fiance, Dan, drinks the days away. When Michael Steven Costello as Dan becomes increasingly drunk, falling down, giggling, staggering, while trying to be charming, he is superb. However, the stage belongs to Becca A. Lewis, who as religious real estate office worker, Charlotte, also works at night as a private health worker. As she hands out inspirational religious videos, she delivers the play’s biggest surprises of all.
“Private Fears in Public Places” reminds me of Paul McCartney’s song, “Eleanor Rigby - all the lonely people - where do they all come from?,” laced with clever lines, tinged with comedy, but veiled in tears.
BOX INFO: One-act, 90 minute farce, written by Alan Ayckbourn, appearing through March 6, at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), Plaza Black Box Theater, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Showtimes are Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m., followed by talkbacks with the cast and crew. Admission is $30; seniors, students, $20; Wednesdays, pay-what-you-can, $5 minimum. Call 617-933-8600, visit online at Boston Theatre Scene, or the Calderwood Pavilion Box Office.