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A CurtainUp Review
In his first published play, Aidan Mathews begins with the end, or Exit . A late middle-paged couple, Charles and Helen, sit in the quiet living room of the apartment they have shared for years, sharing memories of their life together and facing the decision they have made. In the second act, Entrance, a young couple, also named Charles and Helen, is just beginning their life together in a similar apartment. They are hopeful yet acknowledge uncertainty as they scurry around, unpacking their belongings and organizing the empty space into a home.
Directed by M. Burke Walker, Mathews' meticulously crafted play is flavored with challenging similarities and recurrent themes linking one play to the other. Both Charles' are classicists and intellectuals, loving books, tending to look down on less aesthetic tastes, and more comfortable with thoughts than with feelings, leading to little real communication with their partners. Greece is one theme, particularly the allusion to the sculpture, "Charioteer of Delphi." The women are also similar — optimistic and emotional, ruled by the heart.
The color white is another connection, indicating cleanliness, warmth, comfort, romanticism but also hospitalization and pain. At one point in each play, both couples discuss the "lovely couple" next door, wondering about the intriguing music they hear coming from their apartment.
These clues might seem like a gimmicky exercise if the play were less adroitly written and if the couples were not as persuasive in their interpretations. Most impressive are Linda Thorson (Helen) and Greg Mullavey (Charles), who empathetically portray the older couple with nuanced subtlety. They are compelling as they recall, or can't quite recall, their experiences despite disparate personalities. Often heartbreaking,
Exit , opens with Thorson, fragile and confused, sitting and studying her hands, once her most admired attribute. When the phone rings, she is tempted to answer. It might be Philip, their only son. Charles repeatedly refuses to answer the phone or the door, in case it is Philip, obviously a problem between the couple. There is a fleeting indication of why Charles disapproves so strongly of his son.
Charles' often brusque impatience is tempered by the devotion he shows Helen, who has suffered a previous breakdown and long-term hospitalization. Thorson eloquently portrays Helen's dependency upon him as she now seems to be approaching dementia, with moments of lucidity playing effectively against interludes of disorientation. Charles is also ill, having undergone a colostomy and he has made plans for their future. In this space of six hours, they mark the moments until their fatal move and they drink a cocktail as the clock strikes seven times.
Lara Hillier plays the young Helen, bright and playful, eagerly planning the couple's new life in their apartment. She is engrossed in unpacking her dishes, filling the refrigerator and organizing her souvenirs, focused on today and planning for a child. Her partner, Charles, like the older man, is intellectually energized and impatient with small talk, concentrating on his books and work space. He fears the monotony of sameness, the march of days passing by.
At one point, irked by Charles' classical rambling, Helen snaps, "I don't want to be Helen of Troy. I want you to be you and I want me to be me". While Charles is out buying candles, she arranges a quilt on the floor, preparing to seduce him. Will a baby she wants be the result? Will they name him Philip? Are they really the older Charles and Helen 40 years ago? And In the wings is an expected visit from someone named Stephen, which vexes Helen but not Charles. What is the relationship between Stephen and the couple?
The sets by Maruti Evans effectively reveal the couples' lifestyles. In the first act, the apartment is white, neat, papers in a pile and no clutter. The plain white curtains and traditional look reflect a settled couple. In Act Two, the same setting is strewn with crumpled packing paper, half-empty tea crates, a broken bookshelf, bare windows, and patches on the walls where pictures once hung. From the street, car headlines indicate the approach of evening light.
Mimi Maxmen has dressed both couples to fit their ages— conservative cardigans for the older pair and contemporary for the young couple but non-specific to any decade. David Margolin Lawson's sound effects fit into the plot.
Exit/ Entrance is a poignant portrayal of a beginning and an end. These well articulated images of life have universality. The two parts are directed with understanding and elicit exquisite acting, particularly from Thorson and Mullavey. The two couples are connected, but literally or figuratively is not the point. As Thorson says, "I keep forgetting we're all children." In the same vein, Hillier comments, "People like us are like people everywhere,"
Exit/ Entrance premiered originally at the Peacock at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In this U.S. premiere, it is a production by Origin Theatre Company as part of the third annual First Irish Festival.