note: entire contents copyleft 2003 by Will Stackman
A play revolving around four elderly women in an assisted living facility plus the Black couple who provide most of their daily services isn't a likely candidate for the boards these days. Especially since the author is an octogenarian Southerner retired to Homer, Alaska. But those familiar with Ed Bullins own work over the years will recognize some kinship with the humanistic themes which underlie this script. Moreover, the play is clearly in the Southern literary tradition, observant of subtle class distinctions and social tradition, looking for the small everyday truths as the tale unfolds. The Kaplan/Bullins enterprise is to be commended for supporting this piece. Those looking for partial nudity, coarse language, and other current dramatic tropes will have to take their ennui and juvenile needs elsewhere.
The script itself could still use considerable development, but this first-class production and the performances of an outstanding cast make for satisfying theatre for an audience is willing to wait for it. Sometimes the only way to determine what still needs to be done is to get a piece on the boards as completely as possible. In a sense, the virtues of Daniel Gidron's direction illuminate what remains to be done to finish this intriguing play. Brynna Bloomfield's evocative set, handsomely realized by Wooden Kiwi (whose work has been seen most often at the New Rep) provides an environment that allows the magic realism of the text to flourish. Dewey Dellay's original score and soundscape plus Scott Pinkey's evocative lighting help tie the show together without intruding.
All the technical support would be pointless without the stellar efforts of the cast. June Lewin's leading role as Louisa is a finely modulated performance. The character at times has to drift off while commanding the stage at others, has to seem lost in dreams and then in control of those shadows from her past. Her three companions in the west wing of this upscale facility, IRNE winner Alice Duffy, Sydelle Pitas, and Patricia Pellows are perhaps more fully realized onstage than in the text. Rounding out the details of their lives, past and present, would add richness to the play. In particular, Duffy's Martha, a former English professor, should have more literary support for her rigidity, while Pellow's flighty milliner, who wears a new hat at every entrance, should speak of her craft at least once. Pitas' pivotal character, Amy, a WWII widow, needs her professional dimensions emphasized as well as more personal background.
Perhaps the most important reason for producing this script is the easy relationship between these women and Robbie McCauley and George Pendleton III as Clarice and Carter Johnson, the head house keeper and groundsman. The echoes of the genteel past translate into practical everyday living, with no servile animosity. Even dealing with Lynne Moulton's accurately drawn administrator, its clear that the pair remain in charge. Moulton has the unenviable potential of becoming the villain of the piece. She manages to skirt this dilemma by almost comic officiousness with no sense of meanness. These three supporting characters could all benefit from a bit more comedy and less earnestness, but they ring true as is. Clarice, who functions as the narrator at times, needs a heightened style for her exposition and a few jokes, possibly folksy. Since the show began as a musical, there's probably metaphor in the discarded lyrics which would add color to the play's servicable dialogue. It should also be possible to move some of character development from the second act to the first to equalize their lengths.
Eliza Rose Fichter's appearance as Emilie, Louisa's deceased older sister, towards the end of the play was inevitable and played with admirable sincerity. More use could be made of the character however, if only as a figure standing in the shadows as the older woman fades away, as a beacon from Louisa's childhood. This play hovers between the conventional and the fantastic, and given its focus on memory, could go further toward the latter. Timmreck's effort explores a part of contemporary life not touched upon since "The Gin Game", but this time with echoes of Eudora Welty and even Flannery O'Connor. This script may never break into the big time, but could well be done by competent community theaters for years to come, where a feeling for the range of American theatre still resides. Certainly the standard set by this production will be something to aspire to. Professors Kaplan and Bullins should keep up the good work.