After six years of separation, two couples, all 41 years old and fast friends in medical school, are excited to be together again.
They should be. Although they communicated by mail, Carol and Martin, who are childless, chose to help wartorn Africans, who are also battling a rampant AIDS epidemic. The couple work on a medical team similar to Doctors Without Borders, providing care and trying to raise funds back home to supply medicine and medical supplies to their otherwise doomed patients.
Best friends Liz and Frank, who chose to set up lucrative medical practices here, have supplied financial support to their friends’ efforts, and warm, loving support and gifts to an African child named “Annie,” whom Carol and Martin have taken under their wing.
Frank and Liz are living the good life They have a beautiful home in the suburbs, with a garage, which Liz hates, and a 5-1/2-year-old daughter, Kathie, whom Liz adores and Frank regrets, calling the child a “lump”. “Our car doesn’t go anywhere,” Liz cracks.
Unfortunately, Carol and Martin (whom Apollinaire Artistic Director Daniel Fauteux Jacques and Mauro Canepa portray with nail-biting intensity), were forced to flee Africa in a hurry, escaping from danger. They also deeply regret leaving Annie behind. They had no choice, Carol says tautly, because, technically, Annie isn’t their legally adopted child. Without medical intervention and care, Annie is doomed.
As these friends chat and try to sidestep specific facets of their conversation, they become acutely aware of the crisis, pain and controversy simmering in each others’ lives and marriages, and their joyful reunion dissolves into rage and envy.
That, folks, is the crux of Apollinaire Theatre Company’s 90-minute, one-act production of award-winning, prolific German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig’s satire,”Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God,” making its US premiere here. The title centers on a small plastic doll Liz and Frank bought for Annie. Carol and Martin brought their friends a similar gift - a carved, wooden African doll.
Director Megan Sandberg-Zakian’s fantastic cast and their exquisite timing keeps theatergoers rapt throughout the performance. Becca A. Lewis as Liz is superb, the ideal hostess and best friend. She tries to be charming, loving, and enthusiastic about Carol and Martin’s visit, but thinks they look terrible after their African ordeal. She also lashes out sarcastically against her affable husband, Frank. David Anderson provides bittersweet comedy, yet understated resentment. Liz spends her days in the kitchen and fussing over little Kathie, inwardly feeling tethered to her suburban tower. She’s afraid to travel, because Kathie could contract germs.
Tension mounts as truths spill out.Carol and Martin’s helplessness and their patients‘ ingratitude and anger make Carol wonder whether they should have gone to Africa. “Was it worth it? The people we help then go and kill each other,” she says.
But she and Martin have greater reasons for their crumbling marriage.
Frank and Martin soothe their frustration with more and more liquor, while the women vent, scream,and attack each other, then crumble into a sorrowful hug.
Richard Ouellette’s handsome set, Allyssa Jones‘ subtle, sound effects and Chris Bocchiaro’s lighting smoothly transition scenes from individual’s narratives and stream of consciousness to searing interaction.
BOX INFO: US premiere of German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig’s 90-minute satire, appearing with Apollinaire Theatre Company now through March 1, at Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea. All shows are followed by a reception with the cast, in the gallery. Performances: Friday, Saturday, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 16 and 23 at 3 p.m. Advance tickets, $20; at the door, $25; students, $15. Call 617-887-2336, visit www.apollinairetheatre.com .