BWW Review: LAST NIGHT AT BOWL-MOR LANES: Carroll and Plum Play Out the String
Last Night at Bowl-Mor Lanes
Written by Weylin Symes, Directed by Bryn Boice; Assistant Director, Stephen Zubricki IV; Scenic Designer, James J. Fenton; Lighting Designer, Jeff Adelberg; Sound Designer, David Wilson; Costume Designer, Becca Jewett; Properties Master, Emme Shaw; Production Stage Manager, Julie Marie Langevin
CAST (in alphabetical order): Nancy E. Carroll, Arthur Gomez, Paula Plum, Isabella Tedesco, Ceit Zweil
Performances through September 29 at Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA; Box Office 781-279-2200 or www.greaterbostonstage.org
Last Night at Bowl-Mor Lanes is a nostalgia piece in more ways than one. Now having its world premiere to open Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham's 20th season, the play by Producing Artistic Director Weylin Symes imparts a feeling of community, close friendships, and enjoyment of simple pursuits that is rapidly receding in our techno-centric world. Set in a bowling alley on the brink of becoming a Walmart, it challenges us to find ways to stay connected to the people and places that matter most, even as the wrecking ball of progress swings wildly around us.
When I was a teenager growing up in nearby Malden, my friends and I spent every Saturday afternoon at one of two places. We might catch a double feature at the Granada Theatre, or with several alleys to choose from, we preferred Granada Lanes for candlepin bowling. I can still see the bright fluorescent lighting, the shiny hardwood floors, the multi-colored special shoes, and the little, round balls that were just the right size for our adolescent hands. At a time when professional bowlers were competing for cash prizes on the local airwaves, we harbored no illusions about our skill level, but it was a lively, noisy place to hang out for a few hours, eat unhealthy snacks, and stay out of trouble (for the most part).
The soon-to-be-razed bowling alley of the title is authentically rendered by scenic designer James J. Fenton, and definitely one of the top three reasons to recommend the production. The other two are the grande dames of Boston theater, Nancy E. Carroll and Paula Plum, who take on the characters created by Symes to pay homage to women "of a certain age." Ruth and Maude have been bowling together at Bowl-Mor Lanes for nearly half a century and, as their not-entirely friendly competition is about to come to an end, they break into the place for one last string to determine the all-time champion. As they bowl (they actually roll balls from the set into the wings), they pass the time drinking, snacking, and gossiping. The sounds emanating from offstage (sound designer David Wilson) let us know if they've knocked down any pins or thrown a gutter ball, and they celebrate or mope accordingly.
Just watching Carroll and Plum and listening to their banter is satisfying entertainment, but the story needs more than that to transform it from a sketch into a play. That's where the rest of the cast comes in, and the focus shifts inexplicably from the friends' relationship and their "mission" to a drawn-out exposition about the behavior of Ruth's daughter Charlene (Ceit Zweil) and Ed (Arthur Gomez), the owner of the Bowl-Mor. Without going into detail, it is presented as high-stakes drama with a lot of shrill arguing that ultimately doesn't amount to much. Charlene's 13-year old daughter Teddy (Isabella Tedesco) makes a very brief appearance that adds nothing, but Tedesco impresses as a self-assured natural during her cameo.
Director Bryn Boice draws crisp performances from the cohesive cast and keeps the ball rolling (sorry!) apace, making the game feel like it's happening in real time. In addition to Fenton's evocative design, Jeff Adelberg's lighting, Becca Jewett's costumes (gotta love the bowling shoes and shirts), and the properties collected by Emme Shaw combine to transport us to an earlier time and place. However, the script is a few frames short of a complete string. Symes' inspiration for the story and his desire to honor both an older generation of women and the history of the GBSC building (which reportedly housed a bowling alley in its basement in the mid-20th century) are worth exploring, but he needs to reset the pins.
Photo credit: Nile Scott Studios (Paula Plum, Nancy E. Carroll, Ceit Zweil, Arthur Gomez)