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BWW Review: THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE at DREAMCATCHER REPERTORY THEATRE Sits Two Guys Down For a Chat

Wendy McLeod's good-natured little two-hander Things Being What They Are is now on at Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre, the professional theater in residence at Oakes Center in Summit, NJ. The show, comfortably directed by Producing Artistic Director Laura Ekstrand, runs weekends through May 7th. Enjoyable and affecting, this production rests casually somewhere between stage seriocomedy and sitcom serial. When it soars, it soars, and when it meanders, it maintains a pleasant, if tame, personality.

Things Being What They Are tells the story of two men who enter each other's lives as they're coming to terms with the loss of their spouses. This isn't the classic tragic loss, but a more complex loss of romantic love and attraction. Bill McGinnis, a soft-spoken and insecure businessman climbing the corporate ladder of success is waiting desperately for the return of his wife from a final visit with her supposedly former lover. Jack Foster, the jaded divorcee from next door, wanders into Bill's lonely new apartment uninvited and stays for beer, anecdotal conversation, and eventually some sincere male bonding. While generally witty and poignant, especially in Act II, the play suffered from occasional pockets of extraneous conversation. Dialogue about food and outdoor activities plods along, distracting from the true tensions being built in the story. When Jack, hovering over the phone for a call from his wife, compares the two men to Godot's Vladimir and Estragon, McLeod's voice seems to take over at the expense of a more character-driven metaphor. During these lapses in focus, it is up to the actors to sustain Bill and Jack until they settle back into a more natural context. Luckily, they do so with flying colors.

Clark Carmichael and Jake Szamreta are perfectly cast as brash Jack and timid Bill. In both of their performances, personality and character meld into honest portrayals filled out with slight personal quirks. Szamreta's Bill flexes his hands when he's nervous and cranes his neck as if to try and keep his head above the muck and mire of uncertain emotions he's swimming through. Carmichael's Jack swaggers with playful but secretly wary boldness. This balancing act of masculine confidence and human vulnerability is one of the primary themes echoed throughout McLeod's play, and it's given powerful life through Carmichael's sensitive portrayal. Called upon to deliver a comic monologue one moment and then burst into tears a few minutes later, he navigates this vast expanse of feeling with a refreshing honesty. In a play that tends to feel frenetic when bouncing from topic to topic and tone to tone, this expert attention to the volatile spirit of a man torn between freedom and commitment, a painful past and an uncertain future, is a crowning achievement. Carmichael and Szamreta's chemistry is worth a mention too. Their clear enjoyment of each other's company saves many a moment that could otherwise fall flat.

Conversation-heavy plays like this can be tricky beasts to stage. For the most part, Ekstrand does a nice job of keeping things natural and letting these troubled men simply sit and chat before our eyes. While Act I strays a bit - the men fold and unfold a step ladder to sit on one too many times - Act II finds its way through active storytelling and still, poignant revelation with a steady hand. That's when the magic happens. At it's most beautiful and telling, Dreamcatcher's Things Being What They Are is about two men sitting down to talk about life, loss, and what it means to be a man. With a little more danger, this production could make an even stronger case for each of those things.

Things Being What They Are runs for 1 hour and 45 minutes including a 15-minute intermission. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm through Sunday, May 7th. Oakes Center is located at 120 Morris Avenue in Summit. Parking is available in the lot behind the theater at 20 Ashwood Avenue and at the Summit Recreation Center, 100 Morris Avenue. Individual tickets range from $20 to $35, with special rates for subscribers and groups. To purchase tickets, contact Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006 or visit www.dreamcatcherrep.org. A talkback will follow the April 30th matinee.

Photo Credit: David Miceli


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From This Author Michael Vest