BWW Reviews: AS WIDE AS I CAN SEE at Here Arts Center - Growing Up Is Hard To Do
Part of adulthood is learning how to reassess and readjust in the world, but it's one of the hardest aspects of life to master. This is especially true when the world turns out to be not as pretty and full of opportunity as we thought when we were younger. This realization is the focus of Mark Snyder's new play As Wide As I Can See, presented by At Hand Theatere Company at the HERE Arts Center. With a fascinating setting full of conflict and juxtaposition and strong performances, the play is on the right track but needs some work before it can reach its fullest potential.
The focus of the play is on Dean (Ryan Barry), a thirty-something ex-journalist who struggles with readjusting after his recent move from Chicago back to his hometown. He now lives with his girlfriend Jessica (Julie Leedes) while his childhood best friend Tyler (Joshua Levine) and Tyler's girlfriend Nan (Kay Capasso) live in a trailer in their backyard. When a girl from the past comes to Dean's backyard barbeque, it becomes the unlikely catalyst that makes Dean come to terms with his past, present and future.
One of the biggest adjustments for Dean is his move back home to northeastern Ohio. This location, coupled with the specific time period of late summer 2010, creates a fascinating setting for a play about facing reality head-on. This region was one of the hardest-hit in the recession, and by the late summer of that year, the country's whole mood had shifted from hopeful to helpless. In that more hopeful time before the action of the play, Dean chose to return to his hometown in order to lead the local newspaper, which then dries up during the recession. Meanwhile, his girlfriend does what she can, but she's employed as a head waitress and can't motivate Dean to look for a new job. The turn of events leave Dean lost and trying to find his way back to his journalism career while also juggling the stresses of living with his girlfriend and returning to a hometown that feels completely different from his childhood. Barry succeeds in playing Dean as a conflicted introvert, but the problem with that characterization is that the audience has trouble relating to such an internalized character. In addition to the perfect time and place, the playwright also effectively juxtaposes the stress of the recession with the backyard barbeque - the quintessential carefree summer pastime. Everyone is on his or her best behavior and even abides by the typical conventions of a barbeque: the pretty hostess, the host manning the grill, polite conversation. All the while, you know that this stilted social event is ready to explode.
In comes the catalyst: Charlotte Finn (Mélisa Breiner-Sanders), a girl Dean and Tyler knew from high school, whose painfully awkward pleasantries turn to obsessive memories from a particular night years ago. Snyder writes Charlotte as a person harping on the past despite having moved across the country to Portland. She serves as character juxtaposition for Tyler and Nan, who have stuck it out in the town and are trying their best to be happy-go-lucky despite the poor economy. Faced with these two opposites and his steadfast girlfriend, Dean is caught in the middle of everyone and finally must reassess his life, adjust to his changing surroundings and decide which lifestyle is the best for him in his next step of adulthood. It is here during Dean's identity crisis that Barry really succeeds in showing Dean's turmoil, and you wish that he would have been so expressive all along.
On the whole, the supporting cast does very well but they seem held back by limited character development. Breiner-Sanders is an intense Charlotte whose piercing eyes seem to stare so deeply that you can actually see her obsessing over the past. She goes beyond her rambling text to produce a very layered performance, but the writing for Charlotte could be less bipolar. Similarly, Levine does excellent work making Tyler a lovable guy who transforms into a more mature adult by the play's end, despite Snyder's oafish writing for the character. The real standout is Capasso, who delights with honesty and perfectly delivered comedic lines and makes you wish she had more to say. The real head-scratcher is the character of Walt (Conan McCarty) who appears three-quarters of the way through the play and seems incredibly out-of-the-blue and underdeveloped. It would be best if Snyder continued revising his script in order to produce stronger characters and plot for future productions.
Hopefully in those future productions we can continue to see the design elements that we see here. David L. Arsenault perfectly filled the small stage and transported us to the Ohio, complete with lawn furniture and a plastic kiddie pool on the cement patio. Josh Bradford's lighting design was simple but effectively displayed the scorching afternoon sun, a beautiful sunset and a cool summer's eve.
As we each reflect on old friends, past summers, changes in careers and times of transition in our own lives, we can see how difficult this time must be for Dean. His turmoil particularly rings true in this uncertain time in our nation's economy. Hopefully, Mark Snyder will take the advice from his play and reassess the work he has done on As Wide As I Can See, make his own changes and continue with even stronger productions in the future.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy