A Feminine Ending
Also see Sarah's review of Next Fall
Director Robert A. Mitchell guides his cast into perfect performances, starting with Rachel Hanks as a young composer in present-day New York, whose life is filled with doubt (both comical and not) at every turn. Ms. Hanks, as Amanda, never dips too deeply into self-pity, thanks to director Mitchell, though it would be perfectly understandable if she did. Her boyfriend thinks Amanda's parents are "provincial" for calling her a composing genius, and her mother plagues her with worries about the boyfriend's trustworthiness.
Those worries about the boyfriend, the baby-faced Brendan Allen, are probably well-founded: as Jack, he gives us a bright, twinkling oscillation of lighthearted moods, between a slightly tone-deaf affection for his gal, and a cockiness over his future as a pop musician and teen idol. Is he really in love with her, anywhere near as much as he's obviously in love with his own bright promise, or is he just a cad about to catch his first big wave?
Ask Amanda's mom (the always fully dimensional, highly-polished Jenn Bock) and you'll get more than you bargained for. And this is one of the great joys of A Feminine Ending: as Kim, her own doubts and fears about marriage play on a much deeper level and in the manner of a first-rate mystery, as the two-act story goes on. What seems like simple worrying develops into something much greater and more colorful.
B. Weller is delightfully naturalistic as the ruminative dad, who seems resigned to some unknown tonnage of pending upheaval, from either his daughter or his wife. It's sublimely reassuring to see him change so effortlessly, from the perennially awkward young-ish man into an avuncular "dad" type, so perfectly.
And Jonathan Ellison is the childhood sweetheart, rediscovered during a grudging visit home by the young composer. He's everything Amanda's pop-star boyfriend is not, which (as you can readily imagine) makes him just about perfect. Mr. Ellison is funny and natural, and his pure likability adds an unexpected tension as we wonder if our heroine will actually have the good sense to grab him while she's got the chance. The whole, light romantic comedy remains perfectly original, even as it seems to owe a small debt to the great, colorful characters of Jane Austen: each with personal, seemingly ramshackle reasons for doing what they do; and presenting one another with despairing disappointments, and endearing affections, too.
American Theatre magazine recently asked, on a social network, if "direct address" has become over-used. It does make up more than a modest portion of this show but it never seems tedious. Ms. Hanks' oboe playing was a bit harsh on the opening weekend, an awkward way to leave the audience after two hours of very fine work. But thanks to Ms. Hanks, and everyone concerned, it is a surprisingly heart-felt and delightful production, nonetheless.
Through November 7, 2010, at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd., University City, MO. For information visit them on-line at www.nptco.org.