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BWW Review: CONTEMPORARY THEATER COMPANY BRINGS 'BETHEL PARK FALLS' TO LIFE IN DELIGHTFUL OUTDOOR SETTING

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The CTC delivers a perfect union of story and space in this finely polished 90-minutes of intersecting vignettes about an ill-fated park and the people who meet there.

BWW Review: CONTEMPORARY THEATER COMPANY BRINGS 'BETHEL PARK FALLS' TO LIFE IN DELIGHTFUL OUTDOOR SETTING

Just after sunset, on the patio by the burbling Saugatucket River, the speakers whisper a muted "Big Yellow Taxi" and a tall guy in a jumpsuit stenciled "Bethel Park" pushes a wheeled cart, sweeping the flagstones and deadheading flowers. On a park bench far upstage, a woman sits in dark glasses, wearing big headphones and holding out a microphone, listening intently to the birds.

So begins the Contemporary Theater Company's delightful production of Jason Pizzarello's "Bethel Park Falls." The CTC delivers a perfect union of story and space in this finely polished 90-minutes of intersecting vignettes about an ill-fated park and the people who meet there.

June (Sofia DaSilva), is the blind birder in headphones, interrupted by an agent of the park's corporate developer, Brooke (Rebecca Christie), on her cell, trying to reach the man she's having an affair with. When he calls back, June doesn't recognize what species the phone's ring might be. "Sprint," says Brooke, tipping us off to the precise blend of pathos and snark we're in for Pizzarello's deft, dialogue-focused work.

This is exactly the kind of play that's in the CTC's wheelhouse: intimate, character driven, and theatrical, and they deliver a well-paced, thought-provoking evening. Director Ryan Sekac uses double (and triple) casting to fill out the 17 folks whose lives intersect in this park as it faces closure. It's a series of conversations, many of them between people meeting for the first time, and the cast does a fine job at the tricky challenge of switching into multiple roles, all of which have their unique flavor.

We meet Brook's husband, Glenn (Carson Pavao) frantically watching his kids while trying to spy on his wife. He meets new mom Lily (Tina Moore) sitting at the bench where her now-deployed husband proposed. Pavao and Moore have a wonderful chemistry as Glenn shouts at his toddler "Stop eating wood chips!" while trying to reassure Lily she's a good mom. Like many of the vignettes, each of the characters learns something important from the other, and Sekac has done an excellent job at coaching the actors to allow the realizations to blossom naturally, never hitting the audience over the head.

The man Brook is involved with turns out to be Clay, the mayor, whose decision to sell off the park to developers lurks behind all the action. Clay (Ryan Leverone) finds his wife, Holly (Sofia DaSilva) doing yoga and trying to ignore him and recover from a crisis at school. "This tiny patch of grass is where we feel safe," she tells him. Leverone nicely captures the mayor's political shell slowly falling to pieces as he tries to make amends and win back his wife's heart. He calls Brooke (in the first scene) to break off their affair, the first of the play's intriguing shifts in time, something Pizzarello's script leans into as the evening progresses.

Holly reported one of her students, Gaia (Rebecca Christie) for cheating, and the distraught young woman contemplates jumping into the park's lake, but she is talked out of it by a self-confessed "terrible fisherman," named Ash (Susan Chakmakian). In a series of fraught, tender self revelations, Gaia and Ash learn about each other's parental expectations and challenges: Gaia terrified of judgment, Ash mourning a father drifting into dementia. Christie and Chakmakian bring a powerful authenticity to the scene.

Lily's husband, Reed (Carson Pavao) appears to Dusty (Owen Gilmartin) who sometimes lives in the park with his guitar and dog. Reed is searching for the bench where he proposed, Dusty for connection to his twin brother. Gilmartin is a standout as the rueful, disheveled Dusty and in Act II, his brother, the buttoned-down art dealer Cliff who rushes to Dusty's aid.

Two other scenes really jump out: when Ash finds their father (the man in the jumpsuit, who's been wandering throughout the show, dropping odd bits of poetry in between scenes) and they connect in their native language. Sekac resists the temptation to translate or gloss; it's a wonderful moment. And near the end of the play, June returns to her bench to listen to the birds once again. Sekac really lets the moment breathe, having June -- and the audience -- sit for a very long time just listening to the ambient sound of the river, the trees, the late-night birds, and the folks walking by on the bridge. It's the kind of powerful beat that only live theater, in a very particular location, can deliver, and this one moment alone is very nearly worth the price of admission.

"Bethel Park Falls" by Jason Pizzarello. Shows Aug 13-15, 20-21, 27-29 at 7 pm, $22.50, outdoors on the performance patio. All seats general admission with parties set up at least 3' apart to accommodate social distancing. The CTC notes that if you are not vaccinated, you should wear a mask when not in your seat and that all staff and performers are fully vaccinated.

Tickets at https://www.contemporarytheatercompany.com/ or box office (401) 218-0282. Address: 327 Main Street, Wakefield, RI 02879. More information: info@thecontemporarytheater.com

Photo courtesy CTC by Seth Jacobson Photography.


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