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BWW Reviews: THE PROMISED LAND Brings Middle-Class Unemployment Center Stage

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A&B Theatricals and director Joe Bishara took on middle-class unemployment last night with local playwright, Bill Cook's original script, "The Promised Land". Those familiar with Cook's previous work, especially last year's, "Love In An Age of Clamor", will find several similarities between the two productions, however this one, finds middle-aged, middle-class, Simon (Nick Baldasare) suddenly downsized from his life-long career as a financial analyst. His wife, Grace (Josie Merkle) tries to be supportive while dealing with her own uncertainty and fear. The third member of the cast, Jeff Horst, plays the rest of the revolving door characters (I lost count at 6!) that come in and out of Simon's life as he struggles through his unexpected job loss in both real and fantasy scenes.

Baldasare has a delightful Dustin Hoffman-esque quality about his Simon, anxious and befuddled, but undeniably charismatic, as he continues on his "everyman" quest to try to persevere despite his loss. You can't help but feel for him as his life plays out each doomsday consequence of being put on the unemployment line in middle-age, and I found myself sympathizing with his plight. Josie Merkle as his wife, Grace, is a relatively static character, but helps to provide the grounding as Simon's life spirals out of control. Her drunken drawl and mannerisms amusing resembled Jessica Lange in my head, and that played well, and gave her a bit of unpredictability necessary to pull off some of the more extreme dream sequences with more believability. The real man to watch however, is Jeff Horst- if you can keep up with him in his lightning-fast costume and character switches. Horst is absolutely brilliant. Usually a giant stage presence with superb results, Horst is equally delightful in his more understated roles here, but his ability to morph into well-defined multiple roles in the blink of an eye here is pure genius. Most of the comedy in this otherwise quite somber presentation comes from Horst, as he becomes- amongst many others- a therapist, a cop, and Simon's former boss, and his energy is divine throughout. Christine Hentz, as Production Stage Manager and Prop Manager, undoubtedly has quite the job keeping up to make the many quick transitions work so seamlessly.

Clay Eads on Lighting does a nice job at attempting to create the appropriate reference of dream vs. reality, especially given the functional, but space set. However, the dream nature of the show often left me trying to figure out which parts were "real". I was probably slow on the uptake, but at times, it took me several scenes later to decipher. That said, the dialogue is witty and entertaining, and keeps the plot advancing nicely. The theme of the show itself is quite intriguing as it presents a seemingly well-adjusted couple, who find out just how much of their self-worth is tied to things such as social status, financial security, and job success. The fun of its presentation is in the worst-case scenario displays that Simon mentally goes through during his unemployment. While much of the show is a bit outrageous, and comedically so, the ending attempts to bring things back to reality. It does leave one thinking about what we allow ourselves to value and prioritize in our daily lives and the consequences of such. Overall, "The Promised Land" is a fun, relatable show about the very real middle-class struggle to stay afloat in hard economic times that will hopefully provide its audience the ability to let their fears become a little lighter and leave them with the realization that what they have is more often than not, enough.

"The Promised Land" can be seen at the Columbus Performing Arts Center's Van Fleet Theatre at 549 Franklin Ave., Columbus, OH43215 Friday, March 22nd- Sunday, March 24th and again Thursday, March 28th- Saturday, March 30th. For show times and to purchase tickets, please go to: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Generation Photography


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From This Author Lisa Norris

Lisa grew up participating in community theater groups such as Cincinnati Young People's Theater (CYPT) in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, both in front of and behind (read more...)