Vienna Theatre Company ThisBy Joe Adcock • Jan 26th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Vienna Theatre Company: (Info) (Web)
Vienna Community Center, Vienna, VA
Through February 9th
2:00 with intermission
Reviewed January 25th, 2013
First a little quiz: 1. Are you between the ages of 32 and 40 (or do you remember sharply, even fondly, being between 32 and 40)? 2. Do you feel frustrated, futile, restless, listless, passionless, indecisive, helpless and snarky? 3. Do you try to deal with unhappiness by tossing off snappy zingers?
These questions probe what used to be called “midlife crisis.” In the present context, they describe a dark comedy called This, which is currently on stage at the Vienna Theatre Company.
If you answered “yes” to at least two out of three of the foregoing questions, you might well respond positively to This. In a sketchy way, the play explores familiar issues that particularly affect a certain middle class demographic. These issues range from deep to deeply shallow.
The characters are not what you’d call attractive. The VTC cast members themselves don’t seem to like them. At times, even in an intimate tête-à-tête, the performers don’t look at one another as they utter supposedly passionate disclosures. Director Tom Flatt’s actors do, however, try to indicate telling characteristics while keeping their distance from the embarrassing specimens that they are portraying.
This Playwright Melissa James Gibson is a Vancouver native who now lives in New York. She writes mostly for TV. Indeed her This characters are sturdy perennials familiar to watchers of soaps and reality series. Some of the humor is quaintly lame. Alcoholism, for example, is a source of mirth.
The protagonists — Jane, Tom, Marrell and Alan — met at a college 10 or 15 years before the This events transpire. Their thrashings are observed by a French physician, Jean-Pierre, who works for Doctors Without Borders.
Alan is your standard bibulous gay friend who makes droll, wry remarks. At one point he laments having “Hush Puppy guy” written all over him. Though a stereotype, Alan is the most intriguing of the five characters. He is a living facsimile of a fictional character created by Luis Borges in his story “Funes el memorioso.” Funes and Alan are incapable of forgetting anything. This curse is a blessing for a playwright who wants characters who misrepresent their past words to be confronted with an exact retelling of those words. Matthew Randall, in an off-hand, rueful way, actually seems to enjoy playing Alan.
Shannon Benton as Jane, Kevin Walker as Tom and Rikki Howie Lacewell as Marrell stew, and sometimes come to a boil. Jane, a widow and single mother, is a “standardized testing monitor,” a poet and a teacher. Tom is a wood craftsman. He is married to Marrell, a lounge singer. For these three, sex provides the usual complications. Allen McRae is the aloof Jean Pierre. As a dramatic device, he is what, in the plays of Molière, is called the “raisonneur.” He puts upsets into proportion and calls things by their right names. He pooh-poohs “dinky” middle class fitfulness, comparing it to the horrific suffering faced by Doctors Without Borders in the third world.
Jean-Pierre’s comments are terse. Not so the ruminations of the central quartet. They freely indulge in flaccid “I hate…, ” “You always…” and “You never…” statements. Jane, in particular, is prone to diatribes. Her subjects include death, commiseration and the appropriateness of gentiles using Yiddish words.
This premiered five years ago in New York (off Broadway) and since then it has been staged by various theaters — including, last year, the Round House in Bethesda, Maryland. Clearly the play does not have anything like universal appeal. But it can give a certain generational cohort the encouraging feeling that their preoccupations matter.
Gibson’s characters frequently say “I’m sorry.” Then they go on to say that they are sorry that they say “sorry.” But the word has an unfortunate aptness. These folks are, indeed, a sorry lot.
Photos by Jessica Sperlongano
Disclaimer: Vienna Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. VTC also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10079.
Joe Adcock lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.