BWW Reviews: THIS at Round House Theatre - It's About Life
It's always a thrill to be exposed to a play you know nothing about by a playwright you know nothing about and then really enjoy it. This is about THIS the play. Maybe it should have been called "A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That" because that is what THIS is about.
It deals with a brood of thirty-somethings. It may remind some of the television hit series "Thirtysomething" or maybe "Friends", DINNER WITH FRIENDS or even GOD OF CARNAGE. In fact, Round House Producing Artistic Director Ryan Rilette powerfully staged this interesting piece and he also has directed GOD OF CARNAGE for the Marin Theatre Company. Rilette is bringing large audiences to Bethesda and the opening night audience included Catherine Leggett, wife of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.
Remember the name of playwright Melissa James Gibson. I see a great future for her. As a matter of fact, "THIS and Other Plays" has just been published by TCG Books. I would love to read it. It was first presented at Playwrights Horizons in 2009.
I was totally impressed with the clever set design by James Kronzer which rotates like a jigsaw puzzle. It reminded me ot the superb set of FANNY AND ALEXANDER by Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre which played at the Kennedy Center in March 2013.
Bruneau anchors the cast playing recently widowed poet Jane (her husband Roy died a year ago) who also has a young ten year old daughter Maud (unseen) but you do hear her play Bach on the piano. Her company of friends includes three she met during her college years: a bi-racial couple comprised of jazz singer and composer Marrell and her woodworking husband Tom (and their new baby), and Alan, a gay, Jewish Mnemonist (who recalls conversations on television shows). The play begins with an attempt by Marell to fix up Jane with a handsome French physician who works with the organization Doctors Without Borders.
Bruneau is simply riveting in her portrayal of Jane. She has not recovered from the loss of her beloved Roy. She adds that his death was "50 years earlier than it should have happened" and keep his ashes on top of her refrigerator.
Marrell (the wonderful Felicia Curry) and Tom (the always impressive Todd Scofield) are trying to survive with a baby that only sleeps 15 minutes at a time. An example of their problems is Tom's refusal to replace the filter in their Brita water system. Their marriage is obviously having problems and Marrell confides with Jane about a lack of intimacy. The two woman have a wonderful scene at a park eating ice-cream discussing "life".
Alan (the superb Michael Glenn) is comedic foil. He is a Jewish alcoholic and depressed. He recites the Hebrew prayer the Kaddish impressively. His ability to recall conversations leads to a hilarious role as an "umpire" recalling the actual words uttered in a fight between Marrell and Tom. What a great tool by the playwright.
The physician Jean-Pierre is played by the talented Will Gartshore who milks his character's observations in a part which I wished was bigger.
To enhance the wonderful rhythm of the play, Curry's Marrell gets two opportunities to sing at the piano two lovely numbers written by Peter Eldridge. Curry is made for the this part with her smooth and lovely voice.
The play is an intermissionless 90 minutes and it moves along very quickly. It deals with infidelity, depression, life's problems, parenting skills, and relationships. It's about a group of friends facing middle age, grief, and mortality. Gibson's deft use of language makes for a very entertaining evening.