The Last Days of Mickey and Jean by Richard Dresser. Directed by John Pietrowski.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Every day’s an occasion. Bravo!"
The uneasy relationship shared by lovers Mickey and Jean, as witnessed by us in their Paris hotel room, is one of faithfulness and love colored by a shared guilt. Jean is not to be rushed, but when she is ready for something she is not to be dallied with either. She is a woman who knows how to live and when her longtime boyfriend doesn’t care to share a moment with her she experiences it solo. She is tough. She is determined. And she has a few secrets she is only willing to share when she thinks she has nothing to lose.
Mickey’s a man on the lam. He has nerves of steel wire drawn tight through years of experience in the Boston mob. He’s a killer with nineteen dead to answer for should anyone ask. His weakness is Jean and his weakness is drink and his weakness is other women, but mostly it is Jean, his one great love. In the comparative safety of a foreign country they live an uneasy day to day existence, not hiding in the shadows but not really exposed much to the light of day.
This is a comedy, a romantic comedy, with twists and turns and just a hint of the life of James "Whitey" Bulger who was captured recently at age 82 after 16 years in hiding with his girlfriend Catherine Greig. Like Jean Catherine Greig refused to testify against her boyfriend. The play premiered in March of 2010. Timely, it preceded the arrest of Bulger and Greig by just fourteen months. Life imitates art once again.
In the new Oldcastle Theatre Company production Mickey is played by Duncan M. Rogers. His performance is delightfully edgey and clearly paranoiac. He moves with the sleek and clever motion of a panther, speaks with a decidedly South Boston accent and carries off his role with the charm of a snake-oil salesman on the pitch. As this "man in retirement" begins to reveal his true nature the comedy of the play goes dark but remarkably remains light. This is due, in no small measure, to the excellent consistency of the character as presented by Rogers.
Bev Sheehan embodies Jean perfectly. No longer young, her Jean is still a dynamic and attractive woman who can use her best features to her advantage. Whether charming a stranger or disarming Mickey, she brings forward the sometimes elusive personality of this character and leaves us wanting more of almost every moment she dominates. This actress is playing the ultimate actress, a woman in love with a man who will be everything he wants when it suits her own purposes and still serves his at the same time. She is complex and in a long confessional scene in the second half of the one-act show she manages to make her bad-girl secrets into some of the funniest and most charming bits of revelation.
The third actor in this play, Oliver Wadsworth, takes on several roles including the deceptive Bobby and the remarkable Tinsel. Bobby is Southie himself and much moreso than Mickey. He is so phoney you know he is real. As Tinsel, a French drag queen, he is almost more woman than man but never less man than when he is playing Bobby. In one of the funniest scenes in the play Tinsel confronts the others with the face of truth-telling that makes us choke back the laughter even as we understand that the lowest of the lowdown may be the finest of the finesse.
Director John Pietrowski handles all of this material with a careful and tender hand. He helps us see the love behind the obsessions that control Mickey and Jean. He helps his actors control compulsive behavior and still show us that harsh urgency that motivates both of them. It is wonderful work and should be seen to be appreciated.
Kenneth Mooney has created a fresh look at a Paris hotel room with his set and his costumes are just perfect for these characters. Jean’s final dress is the ideal vision for the woman. In addition he has lit the show to keep things moving, keep things in place. The single vision of this designer works well for the play.
A lengthy single act of one hour and twenty-one minutes, it flows like a movie and seems a bit too short. Of course, whenever miscreants are caught and their flight aced, things feel the same way. Some realism in the predictions of this play is what has happened in the months between its first viewing and now and that alters things just a bit for the theater-goer in the know. Really, truly, it just makes it more interesting than ever.
Duncan M. Rogers, Oliver Wadsworth, Bev Sheehan, in rehearsal; photo provided
The Last Days of Mickey and Jean plays at the Bennington Center for the Arts through September 4. For information and tickets call the box office at (802) 447-0564.