note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark
Set Design by Susan E. Sanders
Lighting Design by Dina Gjertsen
Costume by Design by Molly Trainer
Sound Desig by Jesse Soursourian
Stage Manager Nicole Jesson
They're offering you a bargain, to tempt you on beyond the docks and boondocks to see Neena Beeber's tight new play "Dew Point" out at The Gloucester Stage Company --- and I urge you to take the offer. An intense argument from several sides about the career of a sexual opportunist in today's society, it surprised me by the intensity of conviction on all sides so much I'm prepared to make an offer of my own. Quit reading now and call the theater, see the show, and then read my review. If you (or your date) disagree with my opinion of the work of the playwright, the actors, and the director, just let me know and I'll buy your reduced-rate bargain-ticket stubs back from you.
So, see the show first, and then read on.
Okay, I will assume that since you have continued reading you have no intention of seeing this excellent new play. And so, rather than a review discreetly unwilling to deprive you of the shocks and surprises that "Dew Point" has in store, let me mumble on about the ideas the play has had me thinking about. (You can still opt out now. Call the theatre [1(978)281-4433], and read the rest later. I think you'll thank me if you do.)
Is it true, as Neena Beber's themes suggest, that women go on dating because they are hoping to find that one, monogamous perfect-fit to spend a lifetime married to --- while men go on dating because they cannot resist attempting a "trial marriage" with every new possibility that comes along --- whether any of them think he's "committed" or not? Bill Mootos' Jack is just such a gold-plated philanderer with a still friendly once-burned old flame (Emme Shaw), her ripe-for-relationship best friend (Marianne Ryan), and a 21-year-old possessive recent reject (Laura Napoli) all intertwined with Jack, and thus with each other.
The perfect counterpoint to Jack is that old friend's fiancÚ (Michael Saenz), who offers marriage, monogamy, and understanding --- but cannot understand her continuing fascination for a rat he thinks should be rejected, if not arrested. In one of the many insightful exchanges in the play he answers Jack's question "Haven't you ever felt the urge to know, intimately, every attractive girl you see?" with "Oh yes --- but then I turned sixteen."
Jack's called an "addict" at one point, but it's his old friend Mimi who, knowing from their affair and its brutal breakup how destructive he can be to every new conquest, seems willing only to see his charm and his potential. It's no accident that she is a researcher verifying authenticity on autographs --- worthless bits of old paper to which desire attaches value. Isn't Jack a worthless old flame in which each gullible new date sees "possibilities"?
Mimi believes in redemption, believes people can change, Jack can change, and thinks her oldest and best friend Phyllis is that right permanent match. It's her approval of that match, when it quickly sours, that sets the two on for a break-up of their own friendship --- and the sparks from that concatenation ask further questions about why, once-burned, a woman should continue trying in vain to expect reform in a bastard.
The third female point of view triangulating on Jack is Laura Napoli's Greta, an emotional child threatening suicide rather than break up, insisting "I never lie" yet accepting no such honesty from anyone, convinced her affair hasn't ended, and apologetic only in that "people take dancers like me wrong because we've always got to be so confrontational, we have to confront everything --- people, music, everything." She calls Mimi (late thirties, like Jack) "middle-aged", can only see sex in their old-friend relationship, and probably needs therapy.
The joy of the play is that every head-on confrontation is About Something, and every side in every argument has its points. As in life, nothing is ever settled, but the attempts to sort some sense out of it all is stimulating and exciting.
And this cast steps to the plate eager for the competition. Jack never changes, but Bill Mootos digs deeper through his thin veneer at every turn, demonstrating his charm even when blandly justifying the most surprising lies both to others and to himself. Emme Shaw is twisted in all directions by everyone, trying at every turn to find a coherent center for herself in the whirlwind. Michael Saenz begins with small, perceptive punctuating notes that swell, eventually, to a clear-eyed evaluation of his fiancee's dilemma. And Ryan and Napoli, the one eventually clear-eyed and finished, the other deluded and jealous, heave in harassing-fire to make that dilemma vitally exciting.
The play o'er-leaps time with theatrical imagination wherein a shift of light while one character dons an apron makes a scene-shift as swift as in any film, a shadow-lit pair of high chairs down-front briefly become a bar, and one clear flash-back rushes seemlessly into a flash-forward to end the show. Director Simon Hammerstein has seen to it that the characters and situations keep the tensions high as one confrontation after another explodes before the previous is resolved. (He has two quite minor unsolved problems, which may be playwright Neena Beber's as well: One, the first few minutes of surface-glitter patter rattles on like a flat, familiar with-it sitcom [perhaps a few well-chosen pauses might lend more early substance to what later prove to be solid characters]; And, rapt though they were by then, no one in the audience understood that act one had, indeed, come to a break. I point these out only as nits picked in an excellently realized fabric.)
Half a century ago, summer by the sea meant stock productions in which film-stars toured in old war-horses trying to prove they had not yet blunted their stage-chops. Out in Gloucester this season, they're serving real meat well deserving of a good chew. And the audiences are coming back for more.
Well roared, all!