BWW Review: LIFERS Showcases Award-Winning Fringe Companies
Written by John Shea and Maureen Cornell, Directed by Brett Marks; Assistant Director, Kendall Stewart; Scenic Designer & Props Master, Marc Ewart; Lighting Designer, Emily McCourt; Stage Manager, Ariana Gett; Assistant Stage Manager & Props Mistress, Josephine Anes
CAST (in alphabetical order): Maureen Adduci, Peter Brown, David D'Andrea, Mikey DiLoreto, Lisette Marie Morris, Audrey Lynn Sylvia
In a testament to the collaborative nature of the Boston theater community, Boston Playwrights' Theatre plays host to a co-presentation by Argos Productions and Happy Medium Theatre which features a cast of experienced fringe actors who also tread the boards at Zeitgeist Stage Company, Imaginary Beasts, and Heart & Dagger Productions. For his second production with Argos, Somerville playwright John Shea teamed with Maureen Cornell on Lifers, a comedy about change set in a family restaurant in the summer of 2004, one week before the no smoking law goes into effect in Massachusetts.
Argos Founder and Artistic Director Brett Marks directs the play with the flair and fluidity of a short order cook, making sure that everything runs smoothly in the kitchen, both literally and figuratively. The action takes place in the kitchen and staff room of the restaurant which is in the throes of change after the sudden death of the beloved owner/patriarch. Even as the long-time employees (self-described "lifers") bemoan the onset of the smoking ban, they have much bigger fish to fry with the newly-appointed manager Sherry (Audrey Lynn Sylvia) laying down the laws imposed by Richard (not-so-affectionately referred to as Dick), the scion and now proprietor, while also having to deal with Winfield (David D'Andrea), a son-of-privilege trainee.
Shea and Cornell write authentic characters who speak like real people, seasoned with local flavor. Stir in the likes of Maureen Adduci as Marie, the hard-shelled, warm-hearted den mother of the wait staff, and Peter Brown as Doyle, the salty, surly cook, and there's no danger of caricatures on this stage. Mikey DiLoreto is relentlessly gay Michael, a teaser, but loyal, smart, and resentful that he was passed over for the manager's job. He is the rescue dog to Lisette Marie Morris' bitchy Carla, an angry train-wreck struggling with addiction and custody issues. Winfield is the outlier, a recent Boston University grad from Wellesley with a well-known father, trying to fit into an impossible situation. Their relationships and camaraderie ring true, as long-time colleagues bond against changes in the workplace and a common threat, the inept manager who used to be one of them.
Scenic Designer Marc Ewart takes us behind the scenes where the real work gets done in the restaurant; Doyle bellowing out the servers' names as he slaps the plates on the counter by the grill, Winfield "marrying" partially-used ketchup bottles, Marie and Michael sharing cigarettes in the break area, Carla sneaking off to the ladies room for a snort, and Sherry stomping around with her clipboard. Scenes are divided by fading or blacking out the lights (designer Emily McCourt) and offstage sounds of the bustle of the restaurant. Props (Ewart, Josephine Anes) include a computer where the staff struggles to punch in their orders, many plates of food, racks for dishes and cutlery, and more than enough items to give the room some verisimilitude.
Lifers is funny, edgy, and bittersweet with a relatable theme. It is a slice of life story in which not much happens, but it is character-driven by characters who we can care about. Shea and Cornell are to be commended for giving us something tasty to chew on, but without biting off more than they could chew. In fact, the play runs only about 75 minutes with intermission, leaving plenty of time for dinner after the show.
Photo credit: Josephine Anes (Maureen Adduci, Mikey DiLoreto, Lisette Marie Morris)