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|A CurtainUp Review
"Leave me alone!"" That whiny plea is a primal scream and leitmotiv running through Benjie Aerenson's new play, Paradise Island, about a mother and daughter love-hate relationship.
Desperate as 32-year-old daughter Terry (Adrienne Shelly) is to be left alone, it turns out that she has a long history of being unable to cope with life, love or her diabetes. Eager as her mother Emma (Lynn Cohen) is for Terri's happiness, she is a compulsive worrier who could use a sensitivity training course. Consequently, her lovingly intended comments tend to turn into poisoned verbal daggers dripping with recriminations and disappointment. Emma drives Terri crazy. Terri returns the favor.
The actors work hard and well together to portray these middle class, middle brow women trying to forget their troubles during a brief vacation at a Bahamas gambling resort named Paradise Island (a name clearly chosen to ironically underscore the less than idyllic lives of its two visitors). Shelley's and Cohen's good acting and the fact that their characters are sympathetically written, however, cannot undo the fact that Benjie Aerenson's script never manages to make them or their getting-away-from-it-all misadventure interesting or eventful.
Characters like Emma and Terri have been much admired in the short fiction of writers like Anne Beattie and Raymond Carver. On stage, at least in this instance, the dialogue peppered with references to favorite TV personalities (Ophra Winfrey is Terri's heroine) only makes the play seem more like a staged made for TV movie than stageworthy.
Mr. Aerenson unreels this troubled and troubling two-hander in eight scenes spanning a single day. The first and last scenes come closest to establishing the potentially powerful situation of a mother whose daughter has and will continue to be a source of more sorrow than joy and the daughter who is too needy and weak to cut the emotional apron strings. Andy Goldberg's direction does little to make everything in between seem like more than one long argumentative conversation moving from one place to another but without going anywhere.
The setting, except for the already mentioned point-counterpoint between the relaxing vacationland and the tense vacationers does little to enliven the proceedings. In fact, while Ron Odorisio has created as many set changes as there are scenes, there is nothing striking or evocative about any of them -- not even the garish ocean blue scrim with Ersatz palm trees.
Paradise Island, for all its lumps and bumps is the product of an authentic empathy for human fallibility. Hopefully, in his next play Mr. Aerenson will make that leap to the next level at which ordinary people become memorable characters.