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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Rancho Mirage

Also see Susan's review of Gee's Bend and Measure for Measure


James Konicek, Susan Lynskey, Michael Russotto, Paul Morella, Tonya Beckman and Tracy Lynn Olivera
Olney Theatre Center, located in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, is one of four U.S. theater companies presenting the "rolling world premiere" of Rancho Mirage as part of a National New Play Network program. Director Jason Loewith, also the theater's artistic director, has brought together an accomplished cast and overseen a sumptuous physical production. So why is the play unsatisfying?

Playwright Steven Dietz seeks to examine the stresses and problems of contemporary life through the gathering of three couples for dinner at one couple's lavish home in the gated suburban community of Rancho Mirage. Nick Dahner (James Konicek) is an architect who designed the house he shares with his wife Diane (Tracy Lynn Olivera). Their friends are Trevor Neese (Paul Morella) and his wife Louise Parker (Tonya Beckman), and Charlie and Pam Caldwell (Michael Russotto, Susan Lynskey). Each person and each couple is keeping secrets from the others, but as the wine flows—and the dinner burns, and the guests forage on popcorn and pizza—everything rises to the surface. (Literally, in fact: a spilled bottle of red wine leaves a bloodlike stain on a towel.)

Some of the deceptions are minor: one character supposedly has a favorite wine, but actually she doesn't like it at all and only said she did to shut up her husband. Others are more like tremors just beginning to shake the ground. Bankruptcy, home foreclosure, rumors of adultery, pending divorce, miscarriage, fraud, and planning an international adoption without consulting a spouse all make their appearances in the space of two brisk hours including intermission. The dramatic problem is that, after what seems to be decades of grudges and festering annoyances, everyone bursts out at once and no one pays attention to anyone else.

The structural problems of the play are not the fault of the production, which Loewith has staged with a sure hand on Russell Parkman's luxurious living-room set (complete with floor-to-ceiling windows revealing a landscape of palm trees and a lake). His actors are doing their best with characters who too often are ciphers: Russotto and Lynskey both worry about why they haven't been able to have children, but apparently they have never spoken openly to each other about it. Others act in unbelievably cruel ways, as when two of the women criticize the third for the ugly dress and dowdy shoes she wore to a previous party. (Speaking the truth does not mean ignoring the hearer's feelings.) Russotto makes the biggest impression as a man with a great need to be loved—and, it would seem, a need for more supportive friends than he has here.

Olney Theatre Center
Rancho Mirage September 26th - October 20th
By Steven Dietz
Diane Dahner: Tracy Lynn Olivera
Nick Dahner: James Konicek
Louise Parker (Neese): Tonya Beckman
Pam Caldwell: Susan Lynskey
Trevor Neese: Paul Morella
Charlie Caldwell: Michael Russotto
Julie: Sydney Lemmon
Directed by Jason Loewith
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or www.olneytheatre.org


Photo: Stan Barouh


-- Susan Berlin


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



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