CLYBOURNE PARK, this year’s ‘hot’ play has opened at Colonial. With an excellent Bruce Norris script and plenty of weighty roles to go around, it is easy to see why this play is so popular. When presented by a strong cast, like the Colonial actors, this is a thoroughly engaging production. Director Bill Haburcak kept the set simple and trusted his actors. It pays off. The two acts of the play are separated by different characters and concerns, evolving pop culture, and 50 years. The same actors, location, and human interaction unite them.
The first set of residents we meet are Russ (Rich Geller) and Bev (Bonnie Grant) who are spending their last weekend in the house. The seemingly pointless banter is Bev’s attempt to keep Russ talking, and a shield that Russ hides behind as he focuses on the mundane details that allow him to get through the day. Grant channels a Donna Reed housewife who is dealing with a darker reality. She has mastered the patina of the era while adding layers of concern, support and grief that bring Bev to Life. Geller’s Russ is clearly just barely holding it together. Once Russ’s defenses have been breached, Geller shows us the inner Russ, hurt, angry, and lacking in the civility that is the social expectation of the time. His breakdown is jarring and honest. By contrast, Francine (LeAnne Mangano) holds everything in. Always. Francine is the household’s domestic help and a woman of color. Mangano’s Francine is ever smiling and deferential and can’t have been a comfortable role for a modern woman to assume and play so convincingly. Husband Albert (Daymon Warren) makes his stage debut and nails it. Both Albert and Francine play the parts that their white employers expect of them, yet clearly have much richer lives when they are not ‘on’.
Disrupting the household first is Jim (Benjamin Kerr), whom Bev has encouraged to stop by. Kerr displays warmth and caring as he attempts to minister, but when things get awkward, Kerr radiates discomfort. Annaliese Gove plays Betsy, the pregnant, deaf wife of neighbor Karl. Gove speaks in the un-crisp manner of a deaf person without ever overdoing it. Karl (JP Timlin) is an overwhelming and unappreciated presence that Timlin plays to the hilt. Civility keeps a choke hold on Karl’s language, but Timlin’s body language and attitude with the words he is allowed to use clearly broadcast his thoughts. Act I ends with two raw issues left on the table: how will the history of the house, and its new tenants impact the neighborhood?
Returning 50 years later, a group of neighbors is meeting to discuss property changes proposed by the new owners. Cell phones and casual relationships flavor Act II in the same way that civility undershot Act I. Tom (Benjamin Kerr) is running the meeting and exudes confidence and authority, when he isn’t being interrupted. Pregnant Lindsey (Annaliese Gove) is a chatterbox and a PC mouthpiece, assertive and clueless and nothing like Betsy. She is matched in loquacity by Kathy (Bonnie Grant) who comments on everything in an assured, but not necessarily informed way. Grant’s Kathy could walk off the stage and into the audience and fit right in, much as Bev could have done in 1959. JP Timlin is back as Steve, Lindsey’s husband, and a man who could use a filter. Steve is far more congenial than Karl before him, but equally good at saying the wrong thing, loose limbed where Karl was uptight.
LeAnne Mangano (Lena) shines in Act II. Whereas Francine kowtowed, Lena attempts to be polite, until her buttons are pushed and she shows us the real woman – a Lena who is smart, opinionated, and sporting a mean streak. Lena moves and speaks in a way that would have left Francine awestruck. Husband Kevin (Daymon Warren) is one of men this time, not just an extension of his wife. He has a nice sense of comic timing and likely had a lot of fun with that unexpected explosive moment. Dan the contractor (Rich Geller) comes in and out of the room several times. After his intense and emotional portrayal, Geller gets to have a bit of fun with Dan. The unresolved issues remain unresolved, leaving one wondering what the neighborhood will look like another 50 years from now.
CLYBOURNE PARK is beautifully written and deftly performed. Stop by the neighborhood while you can. The Colonial Playhouse, 522 West Magnolia Ave, Aldan PA (610) 622-6773. Performances run through March 25th.
The Colonial Playhouse
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