Richard Green – Talkin’ Broadway, November 5, 2014
Sometimes it all comes down to just one line.
SETTING: A modern, bright convenience store somewhere in County Kildare, Ireland.
That’s from the program for the American premiere of Robert Massey’s 2013 play. The time is “Now”, meaning “not very long after a real-estate price bubble has burst in the Emerald Isle.”
And even in a beautiful gray mist, a Tesco grocery sign clearly spells gloom and doom for Aiden Farrell’s little food shop. But the interior is quite possibly the most beautiful and elaborate little set of 2014 (in this town): meticulously designed and constructed by Margery and Peter Spack. And it’s beautifully lit, because the script calls for it. And, well, you’d probably be a fool not to show it off. But all of that pulls us toward comedy: being “brightly lit” and as colorful as any modern retail outlet must be.
So why the mixed message, of a show that’s lit for comedy—and played mostly for it, too—and a story that’s as bleak as a ghost town? Is it a failure of the playwright, or the irrational exuberance of the set designers? Or a director who doesn’t understand the tragedy of the small businessman?
There should probably be a light or two out, and some ghastly, dim stormy glow from outside. (Well, the backdrop “outside” is gray, but even that’s magnificently painted by Nichole Nelson.) There’s no escaping the great proficiency of delightfully good craftsmanship, in the face of the bleak atmosphere suggested in the dialog. It’s a triumph of art over theater.
And I don’t want to shock anybody here, but you really don’t have to cling to every line in the script notes. The fact is, only a single customer pops in—plus Mr. Bush’s childhood pal JP (Jared Sanz-Agero) looking for some free food. That alone should tell you something’s wrong. So, if the shop is going broke, shouldn’t it look just a little more like an abandoned carnival?
But don’t miss Nathan Bush’s outstanding performance as Aiden, the shop owner: he’s a perpetually astonished, gangly young man, ever-hopeful but goaded by the awful facts of his own life. If there’s ever a movie of Chancers, he’s the only logical choice for the lead role. He gives the show its persistent heart, as well as a strong sense of the bittersweet problem of believing in one’s own dreams. Plus he’s funny, too.
Pamela Reckamp is great as Aiden’s wife, who comes back from a job search, for a sad decision to artfully be revealed. It’s just then we really appreciate how loving and innocent her boyish husband really is. There’s also a fine, impossibly evanescent moment when the three younger characters seem to be brandishing their good Irish accents as ironic weapons against one another, hashing out a plot. But JP seems merely, blandly comical, despite his gloomy back-story (which is surprising, considering he’s portrayed by a highly qualified actor). Lay that one on the director, too, I suppose.
The foursome is nicely completed by Donna Weinsting as Gertie, a woman who’s wronged JP in the past, in what sounds like a shady land deal. She, and everyone else on stage, performs admirably, if this is just to be seen as a comedy—though as you can imagine, I wish she’d been a bit harder. Gertie is eager to earn points on a Tesco “loyalty card,” but too greedy to reward Aiden for going above and beyond the call of duty in his own small shop.
Meanwhile, Ms. Reckamp is splendidly conflicted, and it’s fun to watch some of the looks on her face, knowing her real-life mother won the lottery herself (as the whole play turns on the ownership of a ticket).
But I just can’t shake the feeling that director Sydnie Grosberg Ronga has firmly turned the spotlight toward comedy—when something more darkly, desperately millennial is undeniably in the air.