note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Mike Dunbar … Robert Bonotto
John Stanley … Floyd Richardson
Clare MacEwan … Kate Ociepka
George Stanley … Daniel Owen Dungan
Emma Stanley … Leslie Harrell Dillen
Ben Watson … Matthew Peterson
Richard Montague … Jared Craig
Ryan Bradley Smith’s THE RED LION, a slice of British provincial life, centers around a midland pub called The Golfers (the play’s title is the pub’s original name); when owner Mike Dunbar decides to sell the pub and retire, several townspeople discuss whether it should be preserved or let it go the way of the wrecking ball; one patron wants to buy the pub, himself. Mr. Smith has provided lovely, low-key dialogue to go with all those glasses of ale and cups of tea and he leads his characters to an ending as touching as it is inevitable --- this LION roars, but gently.
THE RED LION also calls for a director and cast who can dig for glimmers of human nature rather than till the top soil (that way melodrama lies) and the Boston Playwrights’ production comes up with shining, sifting handfuls thanks to Lenny Leibowitz’s sensitive direction and the ensemble’s delight over their characters’ quirks and wrinkles. The pivotal role of Mike Dunbar must compel when he takes center stage yet know when to step back as any good bartender would and Robert Bonotto, who dazzled as Degas in the Nora’s VAN GOGH IN JAPAN, now implodes just as impressively, alternating between the fatherly tapster and the grounded soul in a prison of his own making; Mr. Bonotto’s co-players artlessly give-and-take around him which, in turn, provides a layered strata of community to the evening. Daniel Owen Dungan and Kate Ociepka charm as two nice, decent young people at several crossroads in their lives and Mr. Dungan pulls off his Easter Bunny sequences without lapsing into sitcom; the outside world is evoked by Matthew Peterson’s brisk big-city realtor --- not a villain at all, thank you --- and Jared Craig’s slow, shy barkeep is enchanting in his mime (the character becomes less interesting when he starts to talk).
Just as Cheryl McMahon proved last spring in THE MOONLIGHT ROOM what colors a clown can bring to a dramatic canvas, so do Floyd Richardson and Leslie Harrell Dillen as Mr. Dungan’s affectionately bickering parents. Mr. Richardson tones down his eyes and teeth to become a blustery, working-class bloke resistant to change and Ms. Dillen makes a nattering, warm-hearted mum who leads a conventional life but then welcomes the opportunities that come when one door closes and another one opens.
Tijana Bjelajac’s Expressionistic setting is out of sync with the naturalistic performance: not only is it hard to believe that the locals have patronized this pub for generations, it is all so modern-looking right down to its wire-bottles that Mike Dunbar could have sold it as a dance club, as is.