Oklahoma was definitely roaring in the 1920s, but it wasn’t all due to a cultural and artistic shift. The Flood household did their share of roaring during many domestic disputes in T&C’s family drama, THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS.
This small-town family consisted of Cora (Shelli Pentimall Bookler), an unsatisfied housewife of a traveling salesman, Rubin Flood (Larry Krevitz), and their socially awkward children Sonny (Nicholas Tumolo) and Reenie (Annalee Tomanelli). Discussions of too much coddling on Cora’s part and not enough fathering from Rubin leads to a more heated dispute on how the children should be treated and how everyone should behave. When the argument escalates too far, Cora is faced with a difficult decision, and decides to call in reinforcements: her older sister Lottie (Sarah LeClair) and brother-in-law Morris (Jim Wolfe).
While there are signs of the children’s unsociable nature throughout the play, we see a different side of Sonny and Reenie when they’re joined by Reenie’s talkative friend Flirt (Colleen Smith) and two gentleman callers, an inebriated Punky (Trevor Kerns) and an affable Sammy (Nate Mann). One tragic event leaves everyone rethinking what is truly important in life, and is the turning point to major character transitions in the play.
One of the more prominent transitions is seen in Smith’s portrayal of Flirt. We witness a fun-loving, gossipy girl turn to an emotional wreck following heartbreaking news. Raw emotion is not easy to summon on stage without it looking fake or forced, but it seemed to come natural to Smith.
This play also tested the emotional range for Bookler, who had to show Cora as a loving mother, forgiving wife, and tenacious woman. While the acting may have seemed a little over-dramatic at times, there was enough diversity in her performance to make up for it. Krevitz also does his multi-dimensional character justice by fusing authoritative and compassionate qualities and making it believable.
LeClair provided Lottie with well-timed and expertly-expressed rants that was deemed the comedic-relief of the play with the amount of audience laughter. Whether discussing views on religion, family, or relationships, we knew what she meant and we knew she meant well.
The youngest of the Flood children had one of the longest monologues when Sonny showed us how he “speaks a piece.” Tumolo’s rendition of a popular Shakespearian scene felt as simple and sweet as when Linus explained to Charlie Brown and the world what Christmas was all about. A different kind of simple sweetness was seen in Wolfe’s portrayal of Morris, whose big heart and nervous soul made him lovable and lost at the same time.
The introduction of the dashing Sammy to the fragile Reenie also brings out the best in both characters. We see Mann’s ability to be outgoing with a hint of sensitivity and Tomanelli’s poise as she lets Reenie’s uber-shyness start to fade.
While issues of religion, bullying, and domestic violence inject some negativity into the play, the signs of domestic bliss and reassessing of life lead to a hopeful ending.
THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS
by William Inge
Directed by Kate Fishman
June 14-29, 2013
Town and Country Players
4158 York Rd.
Buckingham, PA 18912