Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Before the Meeting
Also see Fred's review of Ghosts
Bock details the goings-on before a group of alcoholics and addicts are about to gather at a daily 12-step meeting. Gail (O'Connell) heads the coffee committee and those around her realize that every portion of routine but especially coffee preparation must be repeated meticulously again and again and again. No questions are asked. Before the Meeting is not particularly intense at the outset. As the story unfolds, its intimacy and the destructive nature of personal conflict dominate.
Others on stage during the early going include supportive characters like Ron (Arnie Burton), who has seemingly been there for years, and Tim (Kyle Beltran). Another member of this contingent, Nicole (Midori Francis), is pregnant. Gail listens and counsels her. This one is an important storyline.
The action occurs downstage in the basement of St. Stephens Church. Mark Wendland's set includes chairs facing toward the rear where actual meetings are conducted. It's an effective visual, but nothing actually transpires beyond the middle of the performance space. This show is very much about atmosphere. The bottom floor of the church is familiar and one can imagine smells of the dingy area. The immediate focus, for the scripted characters, is upon the moment. No one is in serious trouble, in terms of addiction, during the present day, but all have known darker times. Gail, sober for 17 years, still suffers personal loss echoing her years as a younger parent. Her adult daughter Angela (Cassie Beck), entering late for a pivotal, explosive scene, speaks with hostility to her mother. Gail and her daughter are in struggle.
Adam Bock provides a sharp, specific play. His writing is precise and he created Gail as a women perhaps in her sixties who has both regrets and hopes. The author, too, composed an authentic and enduring monologue for her. This is an impressive play from start to finish and the monologue within (it feels like a play within the outer play) is authoritative, passionate and acute. It enables Gail to tell her story and she does so facing the audience directly without anyone else on stage. The actress, with warmth and fluency, takes in everyone as she recounts a portion of her history. Suffice to say, this is heart and soul theater delivered with persuasion by an actress whose expressive presence is winsome.
Gail's interaction with those watching concludes and the overall Before the Meeting resumes. None of this is jarring. Each day shifts to the next, and the next, and so on. The habitual coffee is readied, with detail, each time. Gradually, we see that Gail is like a symbolic planet and all others orbit around her.
Cullman has worked with Bock on a number of projects. At the helm of this production, the director certainly needs to move characters about and that is accomplished. His pacing neither races nor lags. He allows the play to evolve. It may be wrong to suggest that the early portion of the presentation intentionally builds to the monologue, but the one-person segment is perfectly positioned.
Sometimes one imagines, when watching a new play, that, after a rewrite, the work will gain more solid footing. That is not necessary these days on the Nikos Stage. Before the Meeting is totally poised for more exemplary performances elsewhere. This is emotional, truthful theater at its best.
Before the Meeting, through August 18, 2019, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown MA. For tickets, call 413-458-3253 or visit wtfestival.org.