Monday, September 22, 2014

Somewhere... (review)

Spoilers ahoy! 

The Crossbow Theatre is a new company, and Somewhere... their initial production, a world premiere in fact. Their website has this to say about the show:
On a wet, winding road in Upstate New York, prominent architect, Michael Fields, loses his life in a horrific car accident ... After the funeral service, his wife makes their Manhattan apartment available for a small gathering of family and friends. Caught in limbo, Michael appears as a spirit ... with humor and desperation he reflects on his life and soon realizes that he has to endure the surprising revelations brought on by family and friends. Michael has to bear witness to the hard truths about his personal and business life... although he feels helpless in this environment his journey of self-discovery finally allows him the freedom to move on... somewhere!

Let me say at once the production is a good one. The praises it wins from me are ones not that often given. First and foremost, the cast does a uniformly excellent job. As the dead man sharing with us the experience of attending his own wake, Josh T. Ryan proved hard to take one's eyes from. He has a lot of monologues to give, often in the form of stories, and those things can quickly become dull. Especially since his tales aren't really traumatic or exciting but just slices of life. Yet he engages us, often by the simple but quiet act of listening. No small feat! His performance makes up one anchor of the whole story, with that of Kristen Hansen as Vivian, his widow, the other. The bulk of the play takes place in her apartment, where she plays hostess and center of all the other characters' actions. Her Vivian combines genuine, searing sorrow with a complex layering of other emotions but never once does she go simply inside herself. She, like the rest of the cast, maintains a constant flow of action interacting with other characters. You can even tell at times when she's simply trying not to mention something, or struggling to figure out what to say.

Likewise Amir Khalighi as Michael's business partner demonstrates a very wide and ever-shifting range of behavior and reaction, the exact opposite of what so many actors fall into, that of playing one or at most three notes. Khalighi's Russell is a complete person, not least in the simple yet subtle fact that he tells different kinds of lies with varying degrees of skill! Technically, that is no small feat! Yet vital because it represents actual human character!

Rounding out the uniformly high quality cast are Melissa Kite as Claudia, family friend and former college classmate, Tammy Minoff as Nikki, Michaels' assistant and protoge (as well as partner in flirting), and Willy Romano-Pugh as Michael's autistic brother Albert (I've seen Romano-Pugh the most of this cast, in such shows as Fragments of Oscar Wilde and Whore's Bath). I almost cannot emphasize how much the entire ensemble felt right, how their internal dynamic matched what the script called for them to be. One would think this to be common, but not so! Not at all! Subtly but profoundly, many a production stumbles in this way by showing a group of characters whose relationships don't quite gel, never quite mesh. Not so here! Apart from the genuine abilities of the cast, credit for this belongs also to director Jeanie Drynan and playwright Anthony J. Bowman. Clearly this must have been a collaborative effort, with admirable results.

Having said--and meant--all that, allow me to offer a few caveats. Given the premise, one could go several different directions with it. The two most obvious--existential farce a la Woody Allen or desperate angst along the lines of Rainer Fassbender--were eschewed in favor of a minute examination and consideration of just life and love, with all the regrets and hopes and mistakes involved. Not unlike Thornton Wilder (Our Town) or Neil Simon at his very best. Not a bad choice at all! In fact such makes it much easier for us (the audience) to connect, to share the experience of the play's emotional heart. However, in terms of that the script does seem to pull its punch a bit. Michael seems to take the facts of his sudden death, the startling revelations and the virtual assaults on his memory (which, and this is very much to Bowman's credit, remain unanswered), rather blandly. He never seems angry or particularly frustrated, nor does he seem to notice his own emotional detachment. Something about his character as written seems a bit less intense than it feels it should be, which robs the play of some power.

Two other points. First, I felt the play leaned heavily on stereotypes. The bitchy middle aged gay man always looking for young tail. The bitter divorcee businesswoman who uses sex in lieu of intimacy. Honestly, the play got away from these stereotypes to some degree, but it robbed the whole story of some nuance and in the process some power. Second, the perplexing question of why Michael is still on earth isn't really addressed much and (without giving too much away) that also dilutes the climax. We the audience need to be asking these questions more, to feel the discomfort of not having any answers, to get the full impact of what the playwrights seems to want. Please keep in mind, I'm here talking about nuances. Somewhere... still works, still engages the emotions, still delivers a story with a completion that feels right. But it feels like a the dramatic target ended up hit with a 22 caliber instead of a 44 magnum. But it did hit the target! A bullseye in many ways! I look forward to further shows from this company!

Somewhere... plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm through October 26, 2014 at the Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose (across the street from Fairfax High School--but you do need to turn north onto Ogden Drive to find the entrance). Tickets are $20 at the door, but you can purchase them ahead of time here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw the play Saturday and agree with Mr. Blue. I especially felt drawn in by Michael's frequent eye contact with the audience.