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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

This
TheatreWorks

Also see Fred's review of Old Masters

This
Beth Wittig
Melissa James Gibson's dialogue for This, at Hartford's TheaterWorks through February 27th, crackles with wit and insight. Zeroing in on contemporaries in their mid to late thirties, the play pretty much opens with a party game.

Someone leaves, in this case Tom and Marrell's living room, and shortly returns. That individual then asks many questions which are answered with yes or no. Jane (Beth Wittig) is reluctant to play but finally capitulates. She lost her husband, Roy, a year before and has not yet truly moved on. Her friends wish to assist. There's Marrell (Tijuana T. Ricks), a nifty jazz singer who is married to Tom (Clark Carmichael), whose career as a woodworker has, to put it mildly, stalled. Marrell and Tom have their infant in a nearby room and the child hasn't allowed them to often sleep. Jane, by the way, is mother to Maude, nine, who is home. Jane, too, is at the center of the game.

Performer Andrew Rein plays Alan, who is gay, smart, off-beat, and regrets, to understate, the majority of the life choices he has made. The character is catchy but, perhaps, a trifle recognizable. The fifth member of the cast is Jean-Pierre (Maxime De Toledo). Debonair, lanky and a physician, he might or might not become Jane's man. Interesting that he is the only one on stage who is not filled with anxiety or doubt or sadness.

Playwright Gibson hooks the audience through her language the moment the play begins. Everyone speaks in phrases and fragments, and if this does not replicate reality it does secure one's attention. Director Amy Saltz pushes the dialogue forward which creates welcome pace and rhythm. Shortly, the actors' conversations evolve into more familiar back-and-forth. The script is sharp and clever.

Save Jean-Pierre, each individual in the ensemble is stationed at some point along the early midlife crisis spectrum. Jane is unhappy and Tom unfulfilled. Perhaps it is fitting that he shows up, literally, at her door (door and frame). He admits his attraction to her and then ... Later, in a separate discussion with her friend Marrell, Jane advises, "Adultery is not the answer."

It is easy to like Alan who is thinking of modifying the spelling of his first name. He is eclectic, animated, articulate and seeking either a different or new identity. Jean-Pierre, on the other hand, seems to be skating through life. He is also Gibson's least compelling character. That said, Jean-Pierre is probably essential for a successful story line.

This is a play about people who are inwardly hurting and very much seek love. Every so often, someone apologizes for what he or she says. The friends first met one another at college. Three were students and Tom was employed. They have physically relocated and children have entered into the mix.

Beth Wittig absolutely convinces the audience that she genuinely feels Jane's sorrow. Witting wears her revealing emotions upon her face. She is also able to wipe out lack of happiness with a lovely, winning smile. Rein sits inside Andrew's skin, and nails this loquacious man who is lacking in place and purpose.

Luke Hegel-Cantarella adroitly shifts the set a few times and it always feels as if we are within the context of a large or small city in the Northeast or perhaps in Chicago. The situation is all very urban and the struggles of still youthful people are depicted with specificity and energy.

This continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through February 27th. For ticket information, call (860) 527-7838 or visit theaterworkshartford.org.


Photo: Lanny Nagler


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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