BWW Review: YOU GOT OLDER shines at Wilbury Theatre Group
Playwright Clare Barron has a keen eye and a gift for seamlessly blending the mundane and the weird. The Wilbury Theatre Group's stellar production of her 2015 Obie-winning play "You Got Older" powerfully captures Barron's charming oddball pathos.
Thirty-something Mae (Rachel Dulude) is having a rough time. Between jobs and relationships, she heads home to Seattle to be with her father (Jim O'Brien) as he goes through treatment for a strange, and possibly familial, throat cancer. The tension in their relationship simmers as he introduces her to his garden and pushes - just a bit too hard - about her medical issues. As the doting boomer parent, O'Brien is smooth and understated, letting us, but never his daughter, see how sick he really is. It's a powerful performance.
Dulude is a delight as the frazzled Mae, letting us see the complex mess in which love, helplessness, and wish fulfillment all bubble just beneath the surface of her almost-always-in-control persona. She brings us along for the ride and makes us care. It's a testament to Dulude's craft that she can span the range from uncomfortable hospital bedside exchanges to barroom confessions about rashes to raunchy fantasy encounters with a cowboy lover and make it all feel authentic.
That fantasy cowboy is played with a winking Marlboro Man strut by Teddy Lytle, who is clearly having a great deal of fun. Dave Rabinow turns in a nicely drawn performance as Mae's barstool acquaintance - who has mistaken her for her younger sister, whom he had a crush on in middle school. Whether he's enthusing over the rash on Mae's back ("I like pus") or creeping through her bedroom window for a late-night meeting (the look on his face as he discovers that he's standing on her sister's bed is pure gold), he brings just the right twist to the role.
Mae's siblings - Hannah (Beth Alieniello), Jenny (Rachel Tondreault), and Matthew (Zachary Gibb) - all have wonderful presence, and the scene where they gather around their ailing father's hospital bed is a marvel of subtly communicated family dynamics as they ping-pong from anxious hope to a discussion of "family smell," to the practicalities of hospital lunchtime.
There's a beat where Gibb hands Tondreault an orange that is finely observed. It's just a throwaway, peripheral to the action of the scene, and yet it illustrates how director Wendy Overly has clearly driven the cast to find the truth in every moment. It pays off: this level of reality effectively anchors Barron's fantastic elements and left-field turns of dialogue.
The set design by Keri King and Monica Shinn relies on sparse simplicity (since the show is in rep with Barron's "Dance Nation") and is quite effective. Tracks by film actor and musician Chris Mulkey are used for scene setting and transitions, and his folk-inflected guitar and vocal style for the most part works quite well. The one exception is the final scene which, without spoilers, requires higher-energy accompaniment; the song used here is a puzzling mismatch.
But that's a minor quibble. This is a highly enjoyable, thought-provoking, and heartfelt production, with a strong ensemble cast that ably showcases Barron's dark wit.
"You Got Older," directed by Wendy Overly. At The Wilbury Theatre Group, 40 Sonoma Court, Providence, RI 02909. Performances: Thurs 12/12, Fri 12/13, Sat 12/14 7:30 pm, Sat 12/21 7:30 pm, Sun 12/22 2 pm (performances Sat 12/7 7:30 pm and Sun 12/8 2:00 pm listed as sold out.) Tickets $38 General admission/$35 senior/$30 under 30/$15 student, available at https://www.thewilburygroup.org or 401-400-7100 x0; e-mail: email@example.com.
Photo: Erin X. Smithers.