BWW Review: Group rep May Be Proud with A DULL PAIN TURNED SHARP
A Dull Pain Turned Sharp/by Brent Beerman/directed by Kay Cole/Group rep/through June 4
It is easy to find a play today about family dysfunction but one with a totally unpredictable and engrossing story line? Think again! Brent Beerman has come up with one called A Dull Pain Turned Sharp now onstage at Group rep in NoHo. The title may sound offputting but what audience have in store is witnessing a wonderful bonding experience with a top notch cast and meticulous direction from Kay Cole currently through June 4.
Linda (Barbara Brownell) is a mother who fantasizes about her great-grandmother's grandfatherclock, and as time is ticking away, she is counting the seconds to when her daughter Julie (Amy Earhart) will marry and give her and her husband Frank (Doug Haverty) a grandchild. Little does she know that a rare disease of the uterus is about to attack her...and that it has been passed down through generations of her family. So, if her daughter carries a child, it could claim her life. At the top, things seem ordinary enough, with her fanciful husband buying toys for a potential grandchild, when into their lives comes Elizabeth (Janet Wood), a closed-in Hungarian woman, who, it turns out is the mother of an old high school beau of Julie's, Steven, with whom she performed Romeo and Juliet. Steven has sadly passed away after spending six months in a coma from injuries he received in a severe beating. We learn later that he was gay and is survived by a loving partner Dorin (Todd Andrew Ball), who is despised and rejected by Elizabeth.
At the core of the play is a very strange request from Elizabeth...that Julie take Steven's sperm and bear his child. At first, Linda is terribly happy for Julie, who, a successful businesswoman, is wary about marriage. But Julie is unwilling to follow through with the request in spite of her strong love for Steven. When she meets Dorin at Steven's funeral, she changes her mind and sees the possibility of an interaction that may bring happiness to all concerned. If Elizabeth is forgiving. Dorin will be brought into the family and accepted as Steven's true life partner, and Julie will give life to a child that will bring her, Dorin, Elizabeth and her own parents a great zest for living. Complications, of course, arise with Linda's illness and her reluctance to have Julie follow through due to health issues. Julie, however, still wants to proceed even though Elizabeth is unaware of Dorin's participation. In her mind he is the devil, and she blocks his relationship with her son from her mind and heart. Will she be willing to agree with Julie's propostion that she and Dorin be the parents? Will she finally accept him?
Most interesting about this play is Beerman's structure. Issues are presented little by little in a completely surprising fashion. The play is almost like a mystery that is unravelled before the audience's eyes. And the one good thing that occurs is simultaneously a bad thing, a big obstacle. Linda can pass her grandfather's clock on to Julie with her upcoming marriage, but, unwillingly she is forced to pass on as well the uterine disorder that may destroy the bond and kill the child they all want so desperately. Beerman has a humorous way of expressing much of the action using Linda as narrator; it's a little like an adult fairytale, and there are laughs as well as sorrow.
Director Cole has paced the play nicely and staged it fluidly...and the performances are wondrous. Janet Wood steals the hour as Elizabeth. Almost unrecognizable in appearance and with a perfect Hungarian accent, she presents a portrait of a woman from another world, bold, uncompromising yet confused and vulnerable underneath. Ball is a marvel as Dorin, so tender in his love for Steven. He is consumed with his gay union and plays it out fully without ever crossing the line of truthfulness. Earhart brings intelligence and a big heart to Julie, who thinks and plans beyond herself for the family and friends she loves. Brownell is so sweet as Linda, a genuine and supportive person who has only the best intentions for her daughter and husband. Haverty has the least showy role as Frank, but makes the most of it by having fun with the toys he buys for the grandchild he may never see.
Congratulations to J Kent Inasy for a lovely set design with functional panels and furnture that make a fine transition from one home to the other three conveyed in the play.
This is a very welcome play to Group rep, well written, well directed and well acted. Go see A Dull Pain Turned Sharp! Hopefully the 'sharp' will have turned 'dull' by the time you leave the theatre, and you will go out singing the play's praises.. Bravo