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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Before the Meeting
"Yeah, but . . ." is the mating call of assholes!— Ron
Deirdre O'Connell and Arnie Burton (Photo: Joseph O'Malley)
Before the Meeting, Williamstown Theatre Festival's premiere at the intimate Nikos Stage, is a 70-80 minute visit with four addicts prior to their daily 12-step meeting in a church basement.

Led by Dierdre O’Connell as Gail, this cast playing vulnerable humans in various stages of recovery seem like real people instead of actors. Their pain is raw; their tentativeness about the ability to remain sober, visceral.

There is never an actual meeting, just the daily preparation of coffee and bickering over chair placement that creates the quotidian normalcy of life – the need to cling to that which allows all addicts to create and assume a world which excludes their debilitating desires. As much as we laugh at the absurdity of the rules it is obvious that without the little consistencies sobriety might not take effect.

As they banter and argue each character allows secrets and struggles to emerge. Nicole (Midori Francis) is young and pregnant by an alcoholic boy friend. Her self-deprecating jokes hide the fear about her own future and impending motherhood in the face of a rocky family life and present unstable situation.

Arnie Burton as the likable but whiney Ron adds humor to the situation by insisting that the meeting should follow his dictates. This sets off spirited discussions about security amidst the changes required to live sober.

Tim (Kyle Beltran) is the timid newcomer whose commitment is still shaky —not that anything is sure when addicts climb onto the wagon. But Tim is not an old hand and needs lots of support.

The high drama of the story revolves around Gail and an estranged daughter and granddaughter as Gail attempts a reconciliation. Cassie Beck as Angela is angry and conflicted about her mother – so much so that it floats across the stage and remains long after her exit. A child of anger and abuse, it is another side of the damage done by addiction.

Deirdre O’Connell delivers a heart-wrenching monologue as she spills her guts to us about the horror-strewn life her problems have caused. It’s a bravura performance, yet the playwright has created a long intrusion into the action of the play itself. If only it could have been interspersed or cut up to let the others carry some of the information. We never really know the backstories of Ron or Tim.

Trip Cullman’s direction allows the actors to share the sadnesses of their lives as they struggle to claw their out and remain free of the abyss of destructive habits.

The set by Mark Wendland creates a gritty basement which seems to be the antithesis of what addicts need to recover, yet it is the reality of what AA spaces can usually find for themselves. The amusing vignettes between scenes add a little lightheartedness to the grimness amidst storage detritus. Lighting by Jen Schriever and Sarah Laux’s costumes lend just the right note of authenticity.

The characters’ predicaments are authentic and resonate with all humans’ instincts to find acceptance and affirmation in their lives. Though these characters may shake off their demon dependency, they will be haunted by the destructive past.

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PRODUCTION NOTES Before the Meeting by Adam Bock
Directed by Trip Cullman
Cast: Deirdre O’Connell (Gail) Midori Francis (Nicole) Kyle Beltran (Tim) Arnie Burton (Ron) Cassie Beck (Angela)
Scenic Design: Mark Wendland
Costume Design: Sarah Laux
Lighting Design: Jen Schriever
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Stage Manager: Clarissa Marie Ligon
Running Time: Seventy-five minutes; no intermission
Williamstown Theatre Festival Nikos Stage, Williamstown, MA
From 8/7/19; closing 8/18/19
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at the August 11th performance


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