Five Mile Lake
Also see Bob's review of Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
The setting is a small, depressed and desolate town nearby to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Jamie manages a small bakery-café, and devotes most of his time to fixing up the modest lakeside house where he has always lived. Content with his quiet life, Jamie provides succor to his unseen widowed mother who lives in an area elder care facility. Mary, who has grown up here with Jamie, works alongside him in the shop. Although, for a time, she got as far as Slippery Rock (Pennsylvania) where she attended college, the melancholy Mary is "treading water," unable to escape the town that makes her feel "claustrophobic." She returned after college to care for her father and now watches over Danny, who served two tours in Afghanistan and suffers from post combat traumatic stress disorder. It is clear that Jamie, Mary and Danny are here to stay.
From out of the blue who should arrive in town, unexpected and unannounced, but Rufus, Jamie's older brother along with his live in girlfriend, Peta. Rufus is a brilliant scholar who lives in New York City where he is working on his PhD thesis on Greek mythology and teaching. Rufus long ago made his escape from here ("how did I ever live here for eighteen years?"). Peta, who is working as an associate editor at a literary magazine, escaped London and her parents' plans for her to go to Oxford for the freedom to follow her dream. Without giving too much away, Rufus and Peta, who were able to escape the confinements of the areas in which they grew up, along with whatever obligations which might be owed to family, are in crisis and at least as unhappy as the trio stuck outside Scranton.
The play offers much food for thought. Still, I am not certain that I know what playwright Rachael Bonds wants us to take away from it. Initially, it appeared to me that Bonds has held out hope for a better future for Jamie, Mary, Rufus, and Peta. However, looking beyond the tenderness of the final scenes, it seems to me that, given what we know about them, there is not much that is hopeful in the play's resolution. The importance of the attitude that one brings to his or her life is in there somewhere, as are the limits imposed on free will by one's psychological status. There is the seeming illustration that changing one's location and situation is not the solution to all problems. Most persuasively, the play illustrates that a person's attitude, values, behavior, and approach to life are the main determinants of his/her ability to find contentment. Wherever you go, you bring yourself and your persona with you.
Under Emily Mann's sympathetic direction, the performances are naturalistic and nuanced. Kristen Bush (Mary) and Tobias Segal (Jamie) bring a verbal harmony to their scenes together that suggests the music of a Bach sonata. Nathan Darrow (Rufus) and Mahira Kakkar (Peta) convincingly segue into more volatile, one might say symphonic, levels in the play's few more tumultuous moments. Jason Babinsky is a sympathetic Danny.
Edward Pierce's lovely and evocative revolving set featuring the interior and exterior of the bakery-café and Jamie's house on Five Mile Lake is as lovely as it is playable.
Hang in and listen to the small, quietly and slowly unfolding Five Mile Lake and it will engross, enrich and entertain you for your effort.
Five Mile Lake continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday 7:30 pm; Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Saturday 3 pm; Sunday 2 pm) through May 31, 2015, at the McCarter Theatre Center, Berlind Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton. Box Office: 609-258-2787; online: www.mccarter.org.
Five Mile Lake by Rachel Bonds; directed by Emily Mann