This, by Melissa James Gibson. Directed by Louisa Proske. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Julia Coffey as Jane, Erica Dorfler as Marrell, Paris Remillard as Jean-Pierre, Eddie Boroevich as Tom, Mark H. Dold as Alan; photo: Scott Barrow
"Am I especially good at this game?"
Eddie Boroevich, Julia Coffey; photo: Scott Barrow
Deception and self-deception are rooted in the heart of this comedy by Melissa James Gibson, currently on the St. German Stage, Barrington Stage Company's second theater in Pittsfield, MA. The author is, among other things, one of the writers for the FX television series about a couple engaged in espionage, "The Americans," and oddly enough there is something of television about this play. Remember "Friends"? Recall all those thirty-somethings lurking in the background in the coffee bar where the show's principals always dominated the couch and two easy chairs? Well this show is a variation on that television triumph, but utilizing the characters you never met, even when picking up your latte double foam.
The five characters in this play are four college friends, now long out of college, and a French doctor who would try to fit in if he thought it was worthwhile doing so, and though he doesn't really fit in and isn't really liked (he is lusted over, though), he becomes a sort of Phoebe-hanger-on who never seems to leave the room.
The play is about a period of anxiety for the friends. Jane has lost her husband who was beloved by all of them. Tom and Marrell are young parents, who no longer really talk, of one girl and a baby boy. Alan is a probable homosexual about whom we learn little except from his own lips. The four seem to gather daily and nightly in Tom and Marrell's apartment unless they are out somewhere to hear jazz singer Marrell perform. Tom is unhappy in his marriage even though he truly loves his wife and Jane reluctantly tries to date, but can't get her husband's ashes off the refrigerator. Yes, it's quirky like "Friends" but no, it is quirky on its own. Maybe it's the couch that keeps bringing the tv show to mind. I don't know.
Mark H. Dold is perhaps the oldest member of this company of players, but he pulls of 30+ with grace, wit and style. He plays Alan, a man with essentially not life other than what he can eke out of his friends lives. He is a luster after life rather than a full participant.There is a timidity canceled by wise-cracking aspect that dominates his interaction with his friends and with strangers. He wears a man-bun. He is partial to loose, floppy sweaters that remove his form from view. It becomes apparent that he is actually very shy and a mis-fit in this very heterosexual personal neighborhood. Still, the others adore him and he reciprocates in kind. He mourns the loss of Jane's husband and there is just a hint of something mildly dirty there, but it is never pursued. Dold takes the man in hand and sets him forth with an almost tyrannical need for control. Alan has his endearing qualities; as godfather to the baby he is warm, gentle, almost maternal at times, with the baby. His moments there are precious and delectable and reveal a different side of the cynic he presents.
Dold is a symbol of what good acting can do. In an otherwise new company of players, his familiarity stood out and I expected him to take over the leading role, eventually, which he never does. But keep in mind that he is a delight in this company he is keeping and a genuine asset to the show's comedic successes.
Mark H. Dold; photo: Scott Barrow
Paris Remillard; photo: Scott Barrow
The role of outsider is always problematic. However, Paris Remillard gives a fine strength to the "doctor without borders" from France, Jean-Pierre. Originally set up as a possible date for Jane, he becomes a much more regular participant in this group's ongoing working friendship. Remillard is charmingly arms-length in this role and his separation from Alan (Dold) keeps him at that same indiscreet distance from the audience. Near the end of the play he confesses his sexual interests and, while not a surprise really, he brings himself three steps closer to the intimacy shared by these four old friends. Remillard is a find. In this role he is a bit confined, overly refined, and definitely defined as a romantic interest for all the wrong people; or are they wrong?
The women in this play are definitely aimed at the top of the ladder, but both of them, each in her own way, slide down, avoiding those treads that might stop them. Jane is decisively indecisive about moving on in her life and Julia Coffey uses that dynamic to her advantage. She encourages an affair that should never happen. She discourages one that might make a difference. She holds her secrets close until they cannot be contained without causing major damage. Jane stands on a teeter-totter of emotional responsibility and she has trouble maintaining her balance. Coffey plays this expertly and we sympathize, empathize and delineate pathologies in so doing.
Tom, played by Eddie Boroevich, is perhaps the most forgetful husband in the history of theater sit-coms. His wife depends upon him time and time again and he betrays her trust, charmingly, each time. Boroevich plays this hard-to-love, but endearing, man with an easy smile, a twinkle (when did you last read that word?), and a tone of male sensuality that makes a devastating combination. He lets us see and comprehend why his wife loves him so much and why he is attractive to his friends who already see him and his flaws for what they are. This is very good work by this actor.
His wife is played by Erica Dorfler. In addition to her other superb attributes she is a delicious singer and piano player and she makes her jazz club scene extremely memorable through her musical abilities. Marrell is no fool, but when she is fooled by loved ones she is a potential virago. In her scene of vengeful attacks we, and she, are grateful that baby has managed to sleep over two hours. Dorfler makes it clear that sleep may not be in anyone's best interest; she does it with a soulful look and an acid-dripping tone.
Brian Prather's excellent use of the stage to create two separate apartments, a corridor and a performance space/jazz club is wonderful. Each set of lives are remarkably well defined. We never see Alan's home for I doubt he spends much time there. Tricia Barsamian dresses her characters in characteristic clothing, showing us the inside through the outside trappings. Scott Pinkney's lighting of this show is absolute perfection and sound design work of David Thomas is perfect.
It's is wonderful that Louise Proske has such an ideal company to work with. As an opera director she can form superb pictures in this play with out-sized gestures held back in unromantic check, forcing her actors to use their voices, eyes and necks as much as any other parts of their anatomy in showing us how they really feel. She knows her stage pictures well and she makes reminiscent use of the couch and chairs, bringing me unwittingly to old television comedies where the group of friends face their problems head on with humor and a glancing blow or two.
This is a show I am glad to have seen. If this is an "omen" than the balance of the summer season should have a lot to offer. I just hope that, like Jane in theory, we are all good at the game.
Erica Dorfler; photo: Scott Barrow
This, plays at Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage in the Lee and Sydelle Blatt Center for the Arts, 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA through August 27. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888 or go on line to www.barringtonstageco.org.