note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Sixty-year-old divorce´e Margaret Whitney is a romantic, she declares with conviction. It’s Christmastime. And she’s lonely. Her daughter got married recently, and is having a wonderful time with her husband in Spain. But Margaret’s alone. Her timid, unhappily married neighbor Francis (Joel Colodner) visits, food in hand, his heart on his sleeve. He wants to stay and offers himself to Margaret. But Margaret has her own plans.
After being divorced from her drunken bum of a husband Tom, (Dennis Parlato) for 20 years, she decides to go after him, to try and reconcile their relationship; but he doesn’t know it.
Thus begins John Kolvenbach’s bittersweet play, “Mrs. Whitney,” directed by Kyle Fabel, appearing through April 8 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Although the play is uneven and ludicrous at times, it moves swiftly, punctuated between scenes with nostalgic torch songs sung by velvet-voiced Julie London. Just listening to London’s “Cry Me A River” and “Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine” is worth the price of admission.
Campbell Baird’s handsome sets require only a few prop changes, thanks to Paul Hackenmueller’s subtle lighting.
Deirdre Madigan as the first Mrs. Whitney is laudable. She maintains an even temper while foolishly succumbing to Tom’s charm again.
Margaret is unaware she has four successors, and her latest is a tempestuous, angry, 41-year-old, Louisa (Rebecca Harris) , who’s fed up with Tom’s frequent absences. Like Margaret, Louisa loves Tom but can’t let go. When Margaret shows up at Tom’s house and meets the glass-throwing, high-strung Louisa, their contrast is startling.
Louisa’s accustomed to Tom’s ex-wives showing up and commiserating with her, but it doesn’t mean she likes it. They’re misfits - aging people looking for love in all the wrong places.
Kolvenbach’s dialogue is trite at times, such as when Tom claims he and Louisa have an open door policy - they never lock their door. They’re never surprised when strangers barge in, either. They talk to anyone - except each other.
Margaret’s also taken aback when Tom’s son, Fin, (Jay Ben Markson) from his third marriage arrives home during college break. Nothing surprises Fin. He’s used to raising himself while facing a succession of absentee stepmothers. The situation is deranged, he says. He’s the only sensible grownup.
When Tom finally returns home, a free-for-all involving Tom, Margaret, Louisa, Fin, and Francis shifts into high gear.
Tom’s hang-ups and worthlessness have caught up with him. He’s gone on the wagon, and disappears for days at a time, not to consort with loose women and prostitutes (they scare me, he says), but to think and heal himself.
But is he sincere? He says he’s still no good, can’t hold a job, shiftless - but he’s trying.
And Margaret can’t let him go. She has coveted his 17 love letters the past 20 years, secretly yearning for him.“Why am I susceptible to you?” she asks. “You’re my only vice.” Relinquishing her pride, she cries, “I’m yours.”
But what about Louisa? And smitten Francis? How will Margaret’s (and Tom’s) daughter react? Do we care?
BOX INFO: Two-act play by John Kolvenbach, appearing through April 8 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell. Performances: Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4,8 p.m.; Sundays, 2,7 p.m.; April 8, 2 p.m. only. Tickets begin at $24; students, seniors, group discounts. Call the Box Office at 978-543-4678 or visit MerrimackRep.org.