Also see Ann's review of Twelfth Night
The world premiere of playwright and actress Leslie Ayvazian's new work, Lovely Day, is being presented by the City Theatre Company. At times family comedy-drama, at other times political conflict, Lovely Day focuses how one family deals with divergent feelings about war. The City's Artistic Director, Tracy Brigden, directs this one act play.
Fran and Martin and their 16-year-old son Brian live a good life. Martin is a designer and business owner who has just landed a great new job for his company. He and Fran, a housewife and teacher, are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and planning a party to share their happiness with friends and acquaintances around them. However, the report from Brian that a "government guy" came to the school and Brian "signed something" sets off a change in the lives of Fran and Martin that accelerates like rushing flood waters from a trickle that has been present for their entire marriage.
Before they married, Martin served as an officer during the Viet Nam war (from an office, not in combat). Fran now reveals that, during that time, she was close to participating in an anti-war rally, and she has recently joined a group of war protestors who hold a candle vigil for a half hour each day, praying for global silence. Fran's feeling that mothers cannot send their sons to war becomes so acute that she is willing to break up her marriage to protect Brian.
The language in Lovely Day is precisely written and delivered. Kind of Mamet-lite, the dialogue between Fran and Martin (which comprises nearly the entire script) is spoken very deliberately, with both characters not only completing each others' sentences, but supplying words in the middle of sentences. Ayvazian approaches the line of believability here, but doesn't quite cross it. The style of speech tells a lot about this couple, how they are joined quite successfully in many ways, but still separate in others. The dialog style also brings a lot of humor into the piece; Fran is a tad eccentric in some ways, and this way of speaking brings out the amusing side of her nature.
Leslie Ayvazian (author of Nine Armenians, performed in Lost in Yonkers and Lips Together, Teeth Apart) is perfect as Fran (of course, she wrote the role and the play was inspired by her experience with weekly vigils for peace in her hometown in New Jersey). Fran's demeanor and mannerisms give hint to the growing discomfort Fran feels in her present life; she repeatedly moves the furniture around, never comfortable with the results. Ayvazian is almost channeling Sandy Dennis here, and it works. It's obvious that Fran has thought about the issue of war for some time, but only now expresses these feelings in discussion with Martin. Though Fran repeatedly expresses the importance of language and of listening, she hardly gives Martin a chance to completely work out his conflicted feelings. "Men and women think differently," they say, and Fran's feelings of war are the feelings of a mother, but she doesn't seem to realize that Martin's feelings as a father might temper the his militaristic side ("we must eliminate any profound threat to our military"). By play's end, there is more than a glimmer of hope that the couple's feelings are not so far apart.
As Martin, Sam Freed (Broadway's Candide and Torch Song Trilogy, many Off Broadway and regional productions - should be a familiar face to "Kate and Allie" fans) accepts Fran's eccentricities. He has respect for her and seems content in their marriage. When Fran threatens to leave with Brian, Martin is forced to deal quickly with his ingrained feelings about his country's military strength and his equally strong feelings as a father. Though it's clear what the playwright's feelings are, it's refreshing that she presents a respectable, reasoning, and likeable character as "the opposing view" in this play. Freed comes through on all counts, and is enjoyable to watch on stage.
Recent Point Park College grad Christopher Schram plays Brian and, though he has little opportunity to stretch in this role, he does a fine job of portraying a happy 16 year-old boy.
Tony Ferrieri and Abigail Hart Gray have designed a great looking set. Dominated by a cherry finish parquet back wall, including a few shelves and cupboards, the room includes several pieces of contemporary furniture (easily moveable, of course). Though it seems more representative of a city apartment rather than the living room of a suburban home, the set works very well with Thom Weaver's lighting, which features a three sided frame of exposed lightbulbs facing down from above the set, outling the shape of the room.
Lovely Day takes very topical themes and illustrates the not uncommon dillema that faces couples when their different views are tolerable until they will affect a child. The true strength of this play is that it evenhandedly and respectfully shows two people who have different political views. The appropriate amount of lightness is added through the characters quirks and humorous dialog. This is a fulfilling and thought provoking evening of theatre and one of the best directing efforts for Brigden at the City.
Lovely Day for City Theatre Company in the Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre through December 18. Call (412) 431-CITY  or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org for tickets and performance schedule.
Up next at the City is Cafe Puttanesca, a musical by Michael Ogborn which features Jilline Ringle and Lenora Nemetz and runs from November 20 - December 28, 2003.