Out Of The Cityby Leslie Ayvazian. Directed by Dina Janis. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Does it stand up in salute?"
Two couples gather in a parlor in a Bed and Breakfast in the Poconos to discuss their plans for the day. They are close friends who have come to this place to celebrate the 60th birthday of Carol, a role written by Leslie Ayvazian to be played by Leslie Ayvazian who does so in this world premiere production at the Dorst Theatre Festival, in Vermont. On the wide stage of this little theatre the room, designed by Narelle Sissons, is the largest such place in all the Poconos. It could easily accommodate four times the quartet who occupy this place for most of a day. That is not the only exaggeration in this amusing new play.
More than once the entire back wall of the room slides away to reveal an immense sky with the silhouette of a single tree that allows two of the players at a time to be seen on the rocky, sandy forestage, the edge of a lake in the Poconos. This is perhaps the sandiest beach in the Poconos. As Carol and her husband Matt (Mark Blum) throw stones at a floating log the sound effects, expertly designed by Will Pickens, pinpoint the area of the lake in which the stones enter the water, or strike the log or more.
Twice the lights dim to a discreet glow in the B&B's parlor as the two couples face a similar new experience with different results. These friends of twenty years discover the meaning of "soulmate" as each kisses the other's spouse. Carol kisses Jill and the knowledge of this inspires a kiss between Matt and Dan. Jill and Dan are played by Janet Zarish and John Procaccino.
There are laughs and tears as Carol comes to grips with her new zero number age. Highly sensitive she cannot understand the motivations of her husband and her friends in making a minor holiday of her birthday. Ayvazian, who doesn't look a day over forty, plays her role with all the angst expected of a woman facing sixty. She makes light of her new limitations and at the same time outdoes everyone around her with gusto and a maximum sense of life. While I wouldn't call it a controlled performance, it is a performance in which control becomes a dominant force.
Mark Blum plays her husband, an independent soul who enjoys long private walks without her, and he takes his time allowing his character to truly come to the fore and become the forceful figure that Carol needs to bring her into the next phase of her life. Blum is a master at these sorts of roles and he handles this one extremely well, turning the relationship with Dan around into something he can control rather than allowing Dan to maintain the upper hand. Matt initially is the hardest character to like, but by the end of the play he is the easiest one to love.
Jill is a strong woman, an adventurous soul whom Carol idolizes and adores, but never understands. When the two women kiss it is perhaps the first emotional upset Jill has acknowledged in her life and when Carol begins to fantasize their altered friendship Jill is already pulling back, pulling away. Janet Zarish handles this transition masterfully. She is in absolute control of the way in which Jill moves and speaks and relies upon her old spirit to salvage a difficult moment. Zarish plays with her character, sometimes letting Jill take over and sometimes remaining visible as the actress playing the role, something that is hard to describe but easy to realize as you watch it happen. What she may be telling us is that Jill herself is enacting the role of Jill for Carol's sake. Her somewhat Butch self needs to be idolized and she makes the most of her stories of escapades in the jungle. Zarish steps out of the picture at these moment and gives Jill her head.
As her bully of a husband, Dan, John Procaccino makes a strong impression. His character is resolute and immovable as a man. He is a person who demands respect and gets it. Procaccino plays this beautifully, making the man both accessible and stand-offish. It is he who makes the strongest, longest transition happen after his own kiss with Blum's Matt. The greatest amount of humor is placed in this actor's capable hands. He is a delight to watch as his face changes and his character begins to ask questions that he has never asked his wife.
The play has no real ending. It is a one hour and eighteen minutes one act with multiple scenes and we never really reach the birthday. I would love to see the second act when a second morning comes and these four meet again to celebrate the birthday that hasn't quite arrived as yet. That would be the play to present. What we have now is a vast space in which a few things occur that effect the futures of four old friends. It is a nicely written, well acted and finely directed (by Dina Janis) start of a potentially very good play. But you won't leave satisfied; you'll depart the theater curious about what this is all really about and you probably will never get the answer you hope for. A good start, Mss. Ayvazian and Janis, but you need a better finish.
Leslie Ayvazian and Janet Zarish; photo: Taylor Crichton
Mark Blum and John Procaccino; photo: Taylor Crichton
Blum, Ayvazian, Zarith, Procaccino; photo: Taylor Crichton
Out Of The City plays at the Dorset Theatre Festival, located at 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vermont through July 19. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-867-2223 or go on line to www.dorsetheatrefestival.org,