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|A CurtainUp Review
Those the River Keeps
By Jack Holland
Set in Los Angeles, Those the River Keeps by David Rabe, is ostensibly about an ex-mobster trying to make a new life for himself when an old "friend" from the past appears on the scene. On the surface a fairly simple albeit an unusual situation. As in real life, it turns out that nothing is simple. The complications are neither easily solved or explained yet for the audience they are easily understood and felt since they center on the same basic problems we all face at some point in their lives.
Dreams for a purpose in life . . . regrets over past actions . . . desire for acceptance . . . Fears of abandonment . . . insecurities about things we don't understand . . . the need for empathy . . . the questioning, fearful, and out and out panic stricken state of existence that true love for another human being can bring on. These are some of the experiences of being human that are dealt with in this play.
Wonderfully directed by Barry Primus, the play moves at a brisk pace throughout, hesitating only on those important moments which need and deserve the hesitation. Mr. Primus also makes effective use of the set, a living room and small kitchen.
Phil, the ex-gangster trying to make a new life, around whom the play revolves is played by James DiStefano. Starting out a little choppy, his performance settles into a nice groove and remains that way until the end. He brings great clarity and believability to the intense emotional states he must go through in dealing with, among other things, the breakup of his marriage and return of a friend from the past.
Susie, Phil's wife, is also played with strong emotional range by Gretchen German. She's deeply in love with her husband but her desire for a baby is so overwhelming that she's ready to divorce him if he doesn't cooperate. She is whipped back and forth between love for Phil and maternal desire. Add a friend who hates her husband and urges her to throw her marriage away and you have a woman who is definitely on the edge of something. Ms. German fully engages the audience in her conflict.
George Russo is the unpredictable and at times fascinating Sal, Phil's friend from the past. In the beginning he seems a stereotypical gangster type, but Mr. Russo breathes a full and complex life into the part.
Cathy Giannone as Janice, Susie's friend and Phil's enemy brinngs just the right touch of annoyance to her part. She never knocks the audience over the head but lets the audience gradually understand why Susie would just want her to shut up.
David Rabe, author of such plays as the 1972 Tony-award winning Sticks and Bones and A Question of Mercy has always been a thought-prooking playwright. In this play, he does not disappoint. The 3rd Street Theatre is to be commended for giving audiences a chance to see what is considered by many to be a prequel to Hurly Burly.