BWW Review: BEFORE THE MEETING at Williamstown Theatre Festival Shares Some Laughs, Some Tears, and Some Important Messages.
The final production on the Nikos Stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival this season is another world premiere and recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, BEFORE THE MEETING by Adam Bock, directed by Trip Cullman Every day, Gail (Deirdre O'Connell) and the regular members of her early morning group set up for their meeting in the exact same way: Nicole (Midori Francis) makes the coffee, Gail arranges the chairs, and Ron (Arnie Burton) complains. As they forge a path toward sobriety and well-being, they come to rely on the routine and each other. The crew of regulars welcomes newcomer, Tim (Kyle Bertran) with grace and compassion. When Gail's granddaughter reopens old wounds, Gail knows it will take more than coffee, chairs, and companionship to keep her life from falling apart.
Yes, the setting and backdrop for the events that play out is recovery. And, yes, along the way we learn about the steps, but Bock's heartfelt and often humorous material is about people. Not, those people or "YOU people" - all people. More specifically, how people are more alike than different. How that which we claim not to understand and often separates us is a manifestation of fears. As an example, in response to Arnie's desire for change in the standard routine we learn why Gail clings to it as she explains that "so much of sobriety has to do with change, its nice to have some constants". When both Nicole and Tim each face their own personal challenges, we are reminded that although we cannot choose our family of origin, we can choose to build a supportive and nurturing family of choice comprised of select members of the family of man. An unexpected visit from Gail's estranged daughter, Angela (Cassie Beck) really upsets the routine and provides a reminder that forgiveness, like love, are both hard to ask for and often, even harder to give.
BEFORE THE MEETING represents yet another of this season's many productions with an outstanding ensemble cast. At no point do we see actors portraying characters. Rather we are completely immersed and engrossed in a group of people, with whom we connect and are comfortable, facing day-to-day interactions, each with their own varied perspective, needs, baggage, challenges, and circumstances.
That said, Deirdre O'Connel's soliloquy is particularly noteworthy. During the twenty-or so minutes O'Connel as Gail is left alone on stage in a tender, endearing and poignant "share" the timing, energy, nuance, inflection, and connection are so strong and well presented, the audience literally leans in and hangs on her every word. It feels authentic, genuine, and nothing at all like a performance. During the riveting presentation she delivers an important message: that Americans who revere and cling to liberty / freedom don't really appreciate or use it. We are far more likely to be creatures of habit tied to comfort and familiarity.
There is truly something in this outstanding and gripping new play for everyone. You will see aspects of yourself or someone you know in it. You don't have to have experienced recovery or codependence to connect with and take something away from BEFORE THE MEETING. Although there are many powerful lessons to be learned, one clear and certain one is that "help is everywhere if you learn to look for it".