Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Circles"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark


by Jannett Bailey
Directed by Kate Caffrey

Set Design by Jackie Pascucci
Lighting Design by Steven J. Hocurscak, Greg M. Jutkiewicz
Costume Design by Sarah Pruitt
Sound Design by Kate Caffrey
Stage Manager Kim Hoff

Michelle Lawrence.............Kerrie Kitto
Carolyn...............................Lisa Tucker
Louise Lawrence...............Lou Coleman
Steve Lawrence.....................Jeff Garlin
Donna Lawrence............Michelle Dowd
Young Michelle...........Janelle Dempsey

The protagonist in Jannett Bailey's "Circles" --- a painter ---tells her lover "You are the only thing that could take my pallette from me, turn all my blues to gray, my yellows to mud."

The play is a huge, uncompromising, powerful slice of life that any cast could mine for several months of hard work and self- examination and still find details yet to be explored. The Threshold Theatre production, in the oddly-shaped BCA Black Box Theatre space, solves a lot of problems that would be easy if this were a big-budget movie, hits all the big important aspects of the story dead-on, but necessarily ends up with a glass a bit more than three-quarters full. Considering the job they undertook, this is high praise indeed.

The "Circles" here could be the interesecting resonances of five fully-realized whole human beings who stride on stage trailing scads of past life and dripping serious subtext from every well-chosen phrase. Each one of these people could be the center of this play, should the playwright alter focus a little and write out the scenes that are only implied.

Actually though the center of the play is Michelle, a 27- year-old professional painter living in New York. She is Black. Her widowed mother just survived a heart-attack and needs constant care, though she is dogmatically independent and would prefer to live anywhere but Michelle's apartment. But Michelle's older brother and sister, each shakily married, have their own reasons for abdicating any responsibilities. And besides, she looks on this as an opportunity to introduce her straight-laced Momma to the fact that her White surgeon-roommate --- who wants to fight her newly divorced husband for custody of their ten-year-old son -- is really the lesbian love of her life.

A huge, uncompromising, powerful slice of life. And all these intricate interrelationships must be explicated and worked through in about two and a half hours, tops.

Set Designer Jackie Pascucci has provided a living-room with a fold-out couch and a mini-kitchenette, and beyond that Momma's bedroom, all clearly defined by lighting from Steven J. Hocurscak and Greg M. Jutkiewicz. But the script calls for several lengthy flashbacks and cuts to scenes outside or in different places, so there must also be a box-set fronted with a black scrim that doubles as the wall behind the couch. Again, this presents problems that a film would solve in a snap, and it is a credit to the Threshold running crew that all these scenes flow in smoothly logical order.

At the center of all these circles is Kerrie Kitto as Michelle, trying to hold all the parts of her life coherently together without bending to anyone's view of it except her own. Onstage and actively, often explosively involved with nearly everyone nearly all night long, her exhausting role is possible only because the rest of the cast stands toe-to-toe slugging it out with her over heartfelt, serious matters.

Lisa Tucker, as her lover, demands to be a fully- acknowledged partner in her life. Lou Coleman as Momma demands the doll-cuddling obedient girl-child she thought she raised back again. Michelle Dowd as the older sister married (in name only) for conformity's sake, demands that she renounce her "shameful perversion" and get with the program. Jeff Garlin as her brother, working too long and too hard for his mortgage, is left alone in his big house when a neglected wife deserts him, and demands that his little sister do what he can't for their failing aged mother. In the flashback sequences, Janelle Dempsey plays a young Michelle bombarded with conflicting commands and demands, trying to be what she's told to be while groping toward her self.

Director Kate Caffrey has held these brief, explosive, contemporary, realistic scenes to an organic whole, spang off though they do in many directions. Like life, they bring fresh disruptions and build increasingly impossible choices until, like life, the least impossible choices must be lived. Rather than a lesbian tract, Caffrey has made this a universally human dilemma pushed to the dramatic extreme by this sexual choice. (And her choice of musical snippets bridging scenes is achingly apt.) With another week of rehearsal --- or another month, or another year --- the glass might get much more than three-quarters full. Jannett Bailey's "Circles" is certainly a play well worth the effort.

Love, ===Anon.

Produced by Brigid O'Connor for

The Black Box Theatre
Boston Center for The Arts
539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
till 19 April

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide