Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Three one-act plays by John O'Brien"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark

"Three one-act plays
by John O'Brien"

Directed by the actors

Jane............................Lin Haire-Sargeant
Sue................................Rebeca Saunders


Performed by the playwright

Directed by Francine Davis

Fred Peterson.....................Jackson Royal
Freddie Peterson.....Bret Michael Cullen
Chip Peterson...................Shawn Twomey
Marita Peterson.................Danielle King
Mrs. Peterson.......................Chloe Keller
Doctor...............................Pamela Bongas

Lights by Mark Meadows & Rebeccas Saunders
Sound by Francine Davis & John O'Brien
Props by Sam Riley

John O'Brien is a short, quiet retired teacher whose curly white beard would get him hired in an instant as a Santa stand-in. A mainstay of Boston's Playwrights' Platform, he seems always to have several plays "in-progress" or in performance, or in print. The three that were performed at the Firedog Theatre all circled around themes of murder and punnishment and ambiguity.

The first of them, "Mine Too" is comic, though it ends with a murder. Lin Haire-Sargeant plays a bubbly, talkative extrovert, Rebecca Saunders an exasperated introvert. They take information from in-coming phone calls, and alphabetize stacks and stacks of file-cards, making conversation to help the day go more quickly. Well, Lin forces conversation, actually, on a resistant Rebecca. She remembers the jokes of the co-worker Rebecca is replacing --- who killed himself. The final blow-up in this increasingly tense exchange comes when the two admit: "My lover is dead" and "Mine too!"

The lame old jokes, the sudden surprises, the unlikely coincidences, and the familiar yet isolated setting of the encounter all show up in a lot of John's plays. In the monolog called "Due to Die at Dawn" John was a man convicted of complicity in a fatal robbery, talking away his last night into a tape-recorder, and progressively depleting a gallon jug of gin provided by the warden. He maintains he was the victim of a rather unbelievable set of circumstances, and waits even to his last hour for any possible eye-witness to call the governor and corroborate his otherwise unprovable alibi. He speculates, sometimes at considerably long length about what reasons any eye-witnesses might have for keeping silent. He tells himself all his old jokes to keep his spirits up. He speculates on what worse disasters he might have been involved in had he not been arrested for the crime he still insists he was never involved in. He might be lying, might be lying to himself, might just possibly be telling the truth. But, for whatever reason, the phone never rings.

The more ambitious "Mirrors" takes place inside the protagonist Fred Peterson's head. His wife and three children come to their father with intimate little questions, ask advice, josh with each other using old familiar tag-lines and quips, then go back upstage to sit silently on their appointed chairs awaiting any further cues. Eventually, from her chair back on the opposite side of the stage a doctor comes, trying to force Fred Peterson to forgive himself, to stop punnishing himself for having been involved in an extra-marital affair when his entire family were burned to death ten years before, when those kids were not yet, were destined never to be grown. Or perhaps it's the doctor who is illusory, the fire merely a nightmare, the self-incarceration itself an illusory punnishment?

Not exactly the sort of stories you'd expect to be on Santa Claus's mind, are they?

The Firedog production focused primarily on the plays, done with minimal props and brief rehearsals. These are small, neat little plays, after all, quick and subtle like five-finger exercises. Lin wore jarringly "loud" pastel mix-n-matches, for instance, and Rebecca severely tailored grey with black high-heels, and they rapped out their different lines accordingly. John, of course, was John. Francine Davis alone took pains with the production's details, using different lighting for family scenes and doctor scenes, beginning and ending the play with a single match lit in total darkness, making the family a little too ideal to be real. John O'Brien lives and writes, and gets his plays produced, in Boston. Boston is lucky that way.

(a k a Larry Stark)

Three One-Act Plays by JOHN O'BRIEN (till 15 November)
"Mine Too"
"Due to Die at Dawn"
Arlington Center for The Arts, 41 Foster Street, ARLINGTON
1(617)787-3315 1(617)868-6030 1(617)876-0108

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide