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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Melissa James Gibson's This at Barrington Stage's St. Germain Theatre gathers together a group of friends who have maintained a close relationship with each other since their "Ivy" days; Marrell and Tom with a newborn, Alan, a television personality and their acerbic gay "pet" and Jane, a widow with a daughter, laugh, joke, tease and drink.
As the friends comfortably banter with one another, for what must be yet again another of their frequent dinner parties, they await Jean-Pierre, an intriguing French physician for Doctors Without Borders. He has been invited by Marrell as a possible love interest for the skittish Jane. But his presence serves as a catalyst for each of the friends to search within themselves for the source of their own unhappiness and disappointment.
Gibson's writing is sharply insightful. This story borders on a domestic sitcom but avoids that pitfall as the play delves deeper into the psyches of the group, exposing their insecurities until the striking denouement when we gasp at the painful emotions simmering just out of reach.
The evening starts off with a game, against Jane's protestations. She becomes the object of a pre-rigged questioning amusement where, unbeknownst to her, everything she says is designed to reveal something about her inner feelings. It backfires and bares her deepest anguish which also sets into motion new "games" with far-reaching consequences. Every conversation is a oneupmanship or clever play on words that serves the intellect of the characters who cannot seem to connect with their emotions on a deeper plane.
Jane (Julia Coffey) has been a widow for about a year and caught in a holding pattern. In a widow's daze she is going through the day, though not really living. She performs basic tasks for her daughter and job requirements, but it is obvious that she is just treading water. Her friends hover on the outside of her self-imposed retreat and try to pull her back into the world; however, not everyone is altruistic in what he or she offers. As Coffey's Jane becomes involved in an impulsive sexual liaison and guilt colors her every conversation, the actress' body language and facial expressions telegraph her mental torture.
Erica Dorfler's spirited Marrell has ostensibly chosen Jean-Pierre for Jane because he's "...someone who should not be left unslept with." It is obvious that Marrell's own subliminal desires are in over-drive as she and Tom bicker and snarl with resentment over the unaddressed issues of their marriage. Of course, the baby's demands have had an effect on their sleep patterns and libidos. The heated discussion over a Brita filter, its pronunciation and care, are just one of the many opportunities where Gibson's writing probes the commonplace and elevates it to high comedy with rich dialogue.
Tom (Eddie Boroevich) is charming and clueless as Marrell's husband who cannot seem to realize what his wife requires in their new roles as parents and, dare I say it,"adults" Their life together began in their early twenties and he has not managed to develop on the maturity curve. He is a good man but unfulfilled in his career path and the baby's birth has opened up what must have been a long developing rift between the couple.
Paris Remillard is the fantasy "Perfect Guy"– Jean Pierre – the outsider who is sexy, committed, smart, French – did I mention sexy? His electricity sparks the deep seated angst of the group and reminds each one of unresolved shortcomings and unrealized dreams. As a member of Doctors Without Borders he seems to have found a zest for life and work. Too good to be true, the foursome are unnerved by his insouciant embrace of the world.
Mark H. Dold as Alan is unattached and self absorbed. Though we laugh at his narcissistic witticisms, it is obvious that they are an attempt to mask loneliness and the inability to find a partner or niche in life. He is loved by his cohorts and his foibles are tolerated, but when he lets down his guard, in a beautifully realized scene with Jane in her darkened apartment, we feel the longing and sadness behind the cynical facade.
The five actors share the credit for making the story fly off the page as they lament choices, second-guess their impulses, doubt friendships and question loyalty. Louise Proske's direction has helped them mine every nuance and brought to life Gibson's lyrical comedy in stage pictures that capture the actors' choices with an economy of motion. No melodramatics or gesticulating. They play it close and intense which heightens both the comedy and the sorrow.
The set by Brian Prather creates separate apartments, hallways, park bench and a jazz club where Dorfler's spicy Marrell delivers her soulful songs; she sizzles with a voice and body that advertise she is not content to be just a mom and neglected wife. Lighting by Scott Pinkney develops every mood change with sensitivity and insight. Costumes by Tricia Barsamian accentuate each character's persona.
Melissa James Gibson's voice is lavish with her use of modern word play to express the classic human condition of dashed hopes and irredeemable remorse. Talleyrand once said that man developed language to conceal his thoughts. Gibson's inventive talent acknowledges that trenchant observation as we empathize readily and sometimes ruefully with the concept of This. neglected wife. Lighting by Scott Pinkney develops every mood change with sensitivity and insight. Costumes by Tricia Barsamian accentuate each character's persona.
Editor's Note: When This premiered in 2000 it was directed by Daniel Aukin who also helmed her sic and Suitcase Gibson also wrote many episodes of the Netflix hit House of Cards.
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This by Melissa James Gibson
Directed by Louisa Proske
Cast: Eddie Bordevich (Tom) Julia Coffey (Jane) Mark H. Dold (Alan) Erica Dorfler (Marrell) Paris Remillard (Jeran-Pierre) Rebecca Weiss (TV Producr)
Scene design: Brian Prather
Costume design: Tricia Barsamian
Lighting design: Scott Pinkney
Sound design: Michael Andrew Rodgers
Stage Manager: Paul Vella
Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission
Barrington Stage Co., St. Germain Stage, Linden St., Pittsfield, MA
From 8/3/17; closing 8/27/17
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at August 8 performance
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