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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Quality of Life

Also see Susan's review of The Picture of Dorian Gray

It is difficult to write about The Quality of Life, Jane Anderson's wrenching play and the season opener at Arena Stage's Crystal City space in Arlington, Virginia, without giving away too much. The outline of the play might seem schematic and bloodless—two couples with conflicting beliefs and attitudes are forced to come to terms with each other—but it's anything but.

Quality of Life
Johanna Day, Stephen Schnetzer, Kevin O'Rourke and Annette O'Toole

Dinah (Annette O'Toole) and Bill (Kevin O'Rourke) live in Ohio; she's a homemaker who enjoys handicrafts, he's a builder, and they have found refuge in evangelical Christianity after a shattering personal loss. Dinah's cousin Jeannette (Johanna Day), a poet, and her husband Neil (Stephen Schnetzer), an anthropologist, live in northern California and are coping in their own way with catastrophic upheavals, both personal and universal (the term "act of God" comes into play here).

Dinah decides that the two couples should get together to commiserate and bring each other comfort, so she and Bill head off to Jeannette and Neil's current home—portrayed as both desolate and astonishingly beautiful in Neil Patel's scenic design. The four of them, both as individuals and couples, soon realize that finding common ground isn't going to be easy.

Much of what happens at first seems ordinary, as characters make conversation over glasses of wine, but that's only a deceptive surface concealing murky depths that slowly come to light. Anderson understands the rhythms of speech, which director Lisa Peterson has drawn out beautifully and sensitively through her well-matched four-member cast.

Part of the genius of The Quality of Life is that it doesn't ridicule either the churchgoing Dinah and Bill (did the playwright create the blasphemy-free expression "for sweet's sake"?) or the New Age, take-it-as-it-comes Jeannette and Neil. The characters are not stereotypes: Dinah admits to problems with some religious beliefs that her husband accepts without question, and Jeannette has to learn that her individual choices will affect the people around her.

O'Toole and O'Rourke shine, individually and together, as a grounded couple forced to deal with an event that could easily have destroyed them. Day and Schnetzer bring great heart to their roles, which are flashier but just as carefully drawn.

Arena Stage
The Quality of Life
September 11th - October 18th
By Jane Anderson
Dinah: Annette O'Toole
Bill: Kevin O'Rourke
Jeannette: Johanna Day
Neil: Stephen Schnetzer
Directed by Lisa Peterson
1800 S. Bell St.
Arlington, VA 22202
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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