BWW Review: WHO AM I THIS TIME? (& OTHER CONUNDRUMS OF LOVE) at Circle Theater
It was a packed house last night at Fort Worth's charming Circle Theater for the preview of Director Aaron Posner's "Who Am I This Time? (& Other Conundrums of Love)". Classic 60's love songs gently set the tone and era as a cheerful audience settled into their seats. The play is based on three short stories by famed author Kurt Vonnegut. Our subject for the evening, apropos for Valentine's weekend is, of course, love. The universal language and the universal puzzle. Over the course of three separate stories, seven actors playing 14 roles collectively delve into the many incarnations of love.
The common thread in each of the stories is our narrator, Tom Newton (Patrick Bynane) and his beloved wife Kate (Sherry Jo Ward). We are transported back in time to the day they professed their love for one another, a young "Newt" (Matthew Holmes) shows up at the door of his dear childhood friend Catherine (Julie K. Rhodes). Newt has been away at war and hears news that Catherine is engaged. Propelled by his heart he rushes back home to try and win her away before it is too late.
Fast forward a couple of decades and Tom and Kate are happily settled in North Crawford, Texas and frequent players at the community theater, The Mask and Wig Club. Tom finds himself agreeing to direct "A Streetcar Named Desire" when regular director and town librarian Doris Sawyer (Marisa Diotalevi) asks him to step in for her. Tom goes about the business of casting the play. Much to the chagrin of his boss Verne Miller, (Thomas Ward) local loner Harry Nash (Jeff Wittekiend) is a shoe in for the leading man, Stanley Kowalski. Bland and sheepish in his everyday life, Harry is the consummate method actor and throws himself into the role, embodying Stanley day and night for the entirety of the rehearsal process. A chance encounter introduces Tom to Helene Shaw (Rhodes) a beautiful young lady he thinks might make a perfect Stella and he invites her to come audition the following day. His dreams are dashed when Helene's reading is about as dry and drab as it gets. Delightfully meddlesome Doris intervenes and suggests maybe reading opposite Harry might awaken the latent passion lurking under Helen's composed façade! It works and an unconventional love story unfolds while hilarity ensues!
Years later, a famed writer, George Murra (Ward) moves to North Crawford with his new wife, movie star Gloria Hilton (Diotalevi) hot on the heels of a scandal. Seduced by the exotic Gloria, George has deserted his wife and 15-year-old son John (Holmes) for seemingly greener pastures. Gloria has a romanticized vision of what a simple life in a quaint town and with a quiet man will be like, but the novelty wears off quickly and she and her new husband are at each other's throats. Tom finds himself inextricably tangled in this drama when he is hired to install a new bath enclosure in the couple's home. He and George spend a drunken evening pondering life and love and choice and consequence. While Tom is busy trying helping George get his old life back and earn forgiveness from his son, he inadvertently neglects his own relationship and responsibilities and gets a lesson in tough but also unconditional love from wise wife, Kate.
It was a very strong performance on Friday. There was not a weak link in the bunch and it was a real treat to watch the actors tackle many roles within the same evening, each getting a chance to shine in the spotlight and serve as supporting cast. The entire cast has comedic timing down pat and every character had me in stitches several times over. Notably hilarious was the scene where we see an abridged version of all three nights of the run of "A Streetcar Named Desire". Helene gets increasingly desperate to woo her leading man both offstage and on and the rest of the cast improvises to balance her erratically different performances. Director Steven Pounders did an excellent job of tailoring the play to the intimate space. Live music, by James Sugg, peppers the production cheerily. As the narrator, Bynane interacted frequently with the audience creating an atmosphere of casual intimacy from the outset and making the audience ponder their own conceptions of love. Set design was sparse yet clever and effective.
My only small qualm was with the writing itself. After being immersed in a well woven tale for two hours I found the conclusion oversimplified. It was a bit "women are crazy and men do stupid things and should be forgiven". The program notes allude to Vonnegut's own divorce, so perhaps this was his way of rewriting the ending to his own relationship. Overall the play was presented and executed beautifully and I recommend making your way to the lovely Circle Theater to see for yourself! The show runs from February 16th. to March 11th. For tickets call the box office at 817-877-3040 or visit http://www.circletheater.com