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Regional Reviews by Nancy Grossman

Out of the City
Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Also see Nancy's review of Big Fish


Charlotte Maier, Ken Land, Grant Shaud, and Kate Levy
Anything can happen in the woods. You can go all the way back to William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, or look no further than Stephen Sondheim's seminal fairy-tale musical Into the Woods, both of which go a long way in proving the point that there is some magic amidst the flora and fauna. There may be sex in the city, but stranger things happen in the forest primeval.

In Out of the City, having its regional premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, playwright Leslie Ayvazian takes this premise and runs with it to consider its effect on two married couples on a weekend getaway at a B&B in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The four longtime friends are celebrating Carol's 60th birthday, but find themselves exploring all kinds of new territory, not just opening the door on a new decade.

Christian Parker directs a quartet of actors making their MRT debuts. Charlotte Maier (Carol) is the birthday girl, playing wife to Grant Shaud (Matt), perhaps most recognized for his role as Miles Silverberg on television's "Murphy Brown." Like their friends, Jill (Kate Levy) and Dan (Ken Land) have been married about thirty years and their friendship spans the three decades. Even so, it appears that shared vacations are not the norm, especially since Jill goes on exotic travels without her husband who would rather do what he likes in familiar surroundings. Carol is less than adventurous (she might take a walk, but not a hike) and Matt is out of shape, recovering from an unspecified accident.

In a character-driven play, the burden is on the actors to convincingly breathe life into the people on the page and make the dialogue sound like the words are their own. Mission accomplished by this quartet, who not only carve out their individual personalities, but meld together as longtime spouses and friends. The director paces the action with the right touch to capture Ayvazian's laughs, big and small. Scenic designer Lauren Helpern places the couples in a beautiful lodge with a floor to ceiling fieldstone fireplace, and lighting designer Brian J. Lilienthal illuminates an area downstage to suggest the lakeshore. David Remedios provides an evocative panoply of sounds, including distant loons, water lapping the shore, and rocks plopping into the lake.

Out of the City focuses on the relationships and how they are perceived differently by each of the pairs. Within the marriages, the women are more attuned than the men, and Carol and Jill also pay attention to their one-on-one friendship. Seemingly innocent disclosures and little discoveries that are not very important when taken individually, begin to cause incremental shifts in behaviors and attitudes when they are added up. Old assumptions are shattered and their world tilts on its axis. And it all starts with the two women sharing a kiss.

It would probably have been easier for Ayvazian to have the kiss lead to a lesbian coming out party, but that doesn't happen. Instead, she lets Carol and Jill savor the moment before going off separately to process it in their own ways. Jill hurries off on a solo hike, while Carol seeks out her husband to reassess their connection. She finds Matt throwing rocks at a log in the lake. Distressed that he can't hit it, he obsesses to the point of missing her cues and re-injuring his arm. When Carol and Jill come together again in the lodge, Dan intuits that something is going on between them, but he's more interested in finding a court to shoot baskets.

Matt and Dan experience some bonding in a funny scene discussing what women want, in terms of birthday presents and sexual pleasure, before they are blindsided by the disclosure of the kiss. Their reactions and the quid pro quo they come up with are priceless, affording the actors the opportunity to show off their comic timing. Rather than tying up all the loose ends neatly with a "happily ever after" conclusion, Ayvazian suggests a hint of growth and change for her characters, but leaves enough dangling questions for the audience to contemplate what the future will hold. It's a safe bet that romance—of one kind or another—will be involved.

Out of the City, performances through April 12, 2015, at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA; Box Office 978-654-4678 or www.mrt.org.

Written by Leslie Ayvazian, Directed by Christian Parker; Scenic Designer, Lauren Helpern; Costume Designer, Jessica Wegener Shay; Lighting Designer, Brian J. Lilienthal; Sound Designer, David Remedios; Stage Manager, Casey Leigh Hagwood; Assistant Stage Manager, Peter Crewe

Cast (in order of appearance): Charlotte Maier, Grant Shaud, Ken Land, Kate Levy


Photo: Meghan Moore



- Nancy Grossman



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