Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Timon of Athens
Because of the small size of the ARK, the entire audience seems to sit inside Meghan Raham's scenic design. Marian (Susan Rome) and Richard (John Leslie Wolfe) live in a bland, tastefully appointed house in Florida: beige walls, beige flooring, beige upholstery, unobtrusive accent pieces. Kenny Neal's sound design plays into the sense of a sitcom with cheerful, television-ready tunes before the show and between scenes.
Marian is retired and restless, trying to do something worthwhile with her life and never quite getting to it. She married kind, empathetic Richard after the death of her difficult first husband. Now, suddenly, they're sharing their small home with her daughter Lee (Shanara Gabrielle), fleeing her problematic marriage, Richard's pregnant teenage niece Kitty (Jordan Slattery), and neighbor Bobby (John Austin), preparing for college but traumatized after an event Marian refuses to talk about.
Stoller understands how to write characters, and director Stevie Zimmerman is confident with her ensemble cast, drawing out Marian's attempts to maintain control over her life and the lives of the people she loves; Lee's awareness of her self-destructive behavior; Bobby's guileless nature; Kitty's bravado; and Richard's cheerful inappropriateness (he may be a retiree in a Hawaiian shirt now, but 50 years ago he was getting laid at rock concerts). The actors work beautifully, both as individuals and as a unit, but Gabrielle does amazing things in the flashiest role.
For the most part, the play nimbly balances between moments of outrageousness and lovely, small bits of kindness and understanding between characters. However, some of the playwright's targets seem like cheap shots: Marian's mystical belief in the transcendence of female genitalia becomes tiresome the more she talks about it.
Debra Kim Sivigny's costume design is notable for its detail, from kitschy, well-worn T-shirts and Lee's mismatched sweats to Marian's elegant floral jacket. Andrew Cissna's lighting design encompasses both the baking Florida sun and the subdued indoor lighting at night.
Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes runs through March 29, 2020, at the Signature Theatre, ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.
By Dani Stoller