The two plays making up Acts of Providence, the evening of one acts at the Sande Shurin Theatre, weren't written to advertise or defame the Rhode Island city in which they both take place; the plays could easily take place in any U.S. city with about the same effect. But despite being highly different in tone and subject matter, they are easily recognizable as the work of one playwright.
Edward Allen Baker demonstrates in both the plays in Acts of Providence (which was directed by Russell Treyz) the desire to connect with the common man, to explore everyday problems from a unique (if perhaps slightly eccentric) perspective. But both of these plays also demonstrate - as did Ray on the Water (which played at HERE a few weeks ago) - that this is not always easy for him to do effectively.
Jane's Exchange, the evening's first play, is a comedy set in a bakery that finds four characters bickering over various secrets and indiscretions, both imagined and real. Though the marriage of Nick (Joe Capozzi) and Mel (Amorika Amoroso) seems happy at first glance, Jane (Julie Karlin) possesses information that could threaten to tear it apart, and only new employee Kara (Tonya Cornelisse) can help unravel the web of intrigue.
The difficulty in any play in which the characters keep very visible secrets from the audience is keeping the audience interested while they sort it all out. Jane's Exchange has a hard time with that - Baker seems to enjoy introduce false starts and requests for revelation (mostly from Kara) that never really go anywhere. When the secret is finally revealed, it proves to be clever enough to sustain interest without the artificial dramatic extensions Baker imposes. The actors all do about what could be expected with the material, though Amoroso stands out as giving the show's most emotionally nuanced performance in the show's most complex role.
Whereas you're unlikely to remember much about Jane's Exchange after leaving the theater (at least in the show's current form), North of Providence is more likely to stick with you. It takes a stronger situation - a young man unable to cope with his father's impending death, and his sister's attempts to get him to visit the hospital before it's too late - and explores it and its characters more thoroughly.
This play also finds Baker using a last minute emotional revelation to tie things up, and that's the weakest part of North of Providence. It answers a question that Baker was never really concerned with asking, and solves the problem that both Bobbie (Mark Belasco) and Carol (Judy Del Giudice) are facing with each other, while ignoring the more serious issues that brought them together in the first place. Belasco and Del Giudice are both very strong, almost able to smooth over the rough edges of the piece, but able to make it dramatic and moving in any event.
Like Jane's Exchange, too much of North of Providence feels false and contrived, with too few events deriving naturally from the situations Baker has set up. He wants to tell the stories quickly and efficiently, and he succeeds, but much of the possible impact and color is lost along the way. When Baker is better able to realize his ideas - which are unfailingly compelling - he will be a playwright to be reckoned with.
Alter Ego Theatre Company