note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi
Louisa Lindsley … June Lewin
Clarice Johnson … Robbie McCauley
Carter Johnson … George Pendleton III
Amy Rockwell-Jones … Sydelle Pittas
Mabelle McAllister … Patricia Fellows
Martha Harper … Alice Duffy
Enid Muller … Lynne Moulton
Emilie … Eliza Rose Fichter
Shirley Timmreck’s new play, CIRCLES OF TIME, premiering at the Lyric Stage, is similar in nature to the mood plays of the 1940s-50s where character gained precedence over plot and Chekhovian nostalgia, regret, hope and inertia were all tied up in a bow and called Poetic Realism. Rather than take on the surge and power of Life’s ocean, the mood playwright concentrated instead on a single, distilled drop, i.e, Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE; Carson McCullers’ THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING; John Patrick’s THE CURIOUS SAVAGE; John Van Druten’s I AM A CAMERA; William Inge’s PICNIC and Horton Foote’s THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, to name some of the better known ones; later entries include Paul Zindel’s THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN IN THE MOON MARIGOLDS, Lanford Wilson’s THE HOT L BALTIMORE and Sam Shepherd’s FOOL FOR LOVE. The late Walter Kerr wrote that he would have liked nothing better than to spend some time in THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, sitting on a porch at twilight and waiting for a pretty girl to pass by.
However, Mr. Kerr’s mother-in-law agreed that, yes, Ms. McCuller’s play was quite lovely but “there really wasn’t very much to it, was there?” This pro and con also applies to CIRCLES OF TIME: there is warm pleasure in watching this drama of mature themes and more than mature bodies (the play is set in a women’s retirement home in Baton Rouge), told with the dignity and wisdom of age and seasoned with a dash of fantasy. Ms. Timmreck, an octogenarian herself, sets up a believable milieu: the cheery but clinical supervisor; the loving, bickering husband and wife who look after things; the women’s daily routines, poised between tranquility and boredom, affection and irritation; etc. an actual afternoon with these cozy folks might be pleasant, indeed. But drama means conflict and progression and, like many a mood playwright, Ms. Timmreck goes slack in her plot-string: Louisa, a widow, arrives for what she thinks is a visit but ends up staying permanently. Though in declining health, Louisa changes everyone’s lives with her ability to “re-enter” past episodes of her life; she makes a graceful exit before the final curtain, and that is that (instead of transcendence, Ms. Timmreck bathes us in whimsy). Some might say, “Well, wasn’t that nice?” Others, like me, might side with grumpy old Martha who chooses to soldier on in the present rather than escape into the past (though she, too, succumbs to Louisa’s wispy charms).
Dan Gidron has directed at a leisurely pace that suggests both the women’s sedentary lifestyle and the locale’s climate (though his production is rather earthbound when it comes to Ms. Timmreck’s magic) and his ensemble sweetly turn their characters this way and that to let the mellow light catch all their facets. June Lewin (Louisa) and Alice Duffy (Martha) stand out not only for their performances --- Ms. Lewin has one of the loveliest of stage voices, projecting smoothly and effortlessly; Ms. Duffy is an adorable dowager --- but because they, more than the others, point up the play’s episodic looseness: Ms. Duffy is forever going off in a huff and Ms. Lewin is constantly wheeled on and off like a shopping cart. Lynne Moulton is bang-on at capturing her supervisor’s forced friendliness and underlying rigidity (so characteristic of women in her position) and a tone poem wafts in with Eliza Rose Fichter, who has prettily entered early teen-dom though here her declaiming wanders all over the scale. May she grow to be as enchanting in the future as she was in the not-so-distant past.