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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and I Didn't Even Smile
By Elyse Sommer
But don't let that unwieldy title fool you, or allow yourself to be put off by the fact that this is yet another addition to the much done dysfunctional drama genre. The play's British born young author has captured the voice of contemporary Midwestern Americana.
As directed by Jackson Gay, Heathcote's both funny and touching story unfolds in 15 briskly paced scenes and makes for an auspicious collaboration between the venerable BTG and a fledgling company, New Neighborhood. To make this apt marriage of a long established company and one just starting out even more meaningful, is that its director and three main characters are also women, as is BTG's chief, Kate Maguire.
There actually is a neighbor who forty-something Rebecca (Keira Naughton) meets on the train each morning without exchanging a smile or a simple "hello." He's just one example of her inability to have developed a go-somewhere relationship with anyone —except her dog, who's death a year earlier she still mourns.
Rebecca is represents the middle generation of the play's three focal women. There's her acerbic, hard-drinking mother Daphne (Linda Gehringer) close to whom she still lives. According to her never seen therapist the mother and daughter have unhealthy co-dependent relationship.
Rebecca's seeing a therapist indicates that she knows that she needs help to break the cycle of her unfulfilled existence, that has its roots in her parents' messy marriage. However, as the play opens with Rebecca's very much dysfunctional brother Jamie (Andrew Rothenberg), it quickly, and amusingly, becomes clear that his neediness will once again prevail over the therapist's advice to put her own needs first.
It seems Jamie, who apparently shows up whenever he needs help with his messy personal and financial circumstances. Sure enough, he's in trouble again. Just as he's about to embark on another marriage, a scandal involving his 15-year-old daughter Sadie (Ariana Venturi) erupts. Seem Sadie's phone created porno app went viral and so her mother in California, unable to deal with the scandal, has shipped her off to live with her father. And so, unless Rebecca agrees to take in the niece she doesn't really know, no honeymoon for Jamie — especially since Sadie and Fiona (the unseen new love of his life) don't like each other.
In the scenes that follows we see the gradually evolving fraught and difficult kinship bonds develop between Sadie, Rebecca and Daphne. Sadie no more wants to be with her aunt and grandmother than they are eager to have her. But as Rebecca has been emotionally crippled by her tumultuous early family life, so has Sadie. Her porno adventure was a plea for attention from her absent father. And even as she and Rebecca become better acquainted, she refuses to replace her California outfits for more suitable to the wintry Midwest weather.
Sadie's introducing her aunt to social networking via a cell phone brings new complexities to the plot. But Sadie's not just a rebellious, aggressively sexy teen, but something of a math wiz. This introduces a non-familial character into the mix. That's Eric (Adam Langdon), a nerdy fellow student at the high school in which she's been enrolled. Eric who understands what being lonely and friendless, as well as wonderfully realistic ending which admirably avoids going into either soppy all's well that ends well or melodramatic tragedy.
As she did with Lucy Thurber's Hilltown plays, a few seasons ago introduced as a marathon collection by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Jackson Gay has nurtured Heathcote's natural and sharp dialogue by fostering sympathetic performances from the entire ensemble. Though Gehringer's Daphne gets the funniest lines, Naughton's Rebecca and Venturi's sullen Sadie are fully deimensiond and Langdon's Eric wonderfully endearing.
True to the playwright's expressed wishes in the script notes, Ms. Gay has arranged for the various shifts in locations (the diner, Rebecca's apartment, the local school, Rebecca chauffeuring her mother and niece in a mini-van) to take place with a few rolled on and off stage set piece by Paul Whitaker, enhanced with some atmospheric projections by Nicholas Hussong against a back wall apartment house image. Having composer Ryan Kattner's incidental music performed right on stage by pianist Daniel O'Connell is a nice touch.
The intimacy of the Unicorn theater gives every audience member a chance to get fully engaged with these ordinary, but worth knowing characters.