Friday, May 28, 2010

review - Four Places

CRITIC'S PICK
Four Places
by Joel Drake Johnson
directed by Robin Larsen
Rogue Machine's production @ Theatre Theater.
through July 3

Painful though the subject matter of Four Places truthfully is, you can spot at least one member of your family within its four characters. Mother Peggy, daughter Ellen, and son Warren are present; the father never appears, but his presence is felt as clearly as the other three, thanks to the astute writing of Joel Drake Johnson. In fact, the play has everything going for it: great writing, directing, acting and technical values.
It starts simply enough, as siblings Ellen (Roxanne Hart), recently widowed, and Warren (Tim Bagley), divorced, drive over to pick up their mother Peggy (Anne Gee Byrd) to take her to a local restuarant for lunch. There is tension between all three characters as Warren's participation is unexpected, prompting the mother to realize that something unpleasant is adrift. Once at the restaurant, they are greeted by a friendly waitress Barb (Lisa Rothschiller), who fawns all over Peggy, who's a regular customer. The disclosures and recriminations that transpire over the next hour and twenty minutes are bitter, somewhat shocking and appalling but presented with such humor - much of the time - that most of it is easy to swallow. At the core of the piece is an alcoholic mother and father, who have been abusive to one another, and rather neglectful of their children - always have. The decision that the children have made to help both parents cuts like a knife into the mother's personal life, as well as their own. Anyone who has ever had to deal with aging, sick parents in their final years will relate to this story.
The acting is superb. Byrd has never been better as the feisty mother who longs to keep a piece of herself in a private place but is understandably forbidden. Peggy simultaneously wins our love and distrust through Byrd's remarkable performance. Both Hart and Bagley are wonderfully strong as the depressed, unsettled brother and sister. As well as the matter of the parents, each is experiencing deep personal issues of loneliness. Warren's issues run even deeper and more complex. Although we can relate, neither is especially likeable. They gain some sympathy, but make sure you hold accountable the play's engrossingly piquant wit. Rothschiller is memorable as the waitress who really cares about the people she serves, going above and beyond to assure Peggy's personal welfare.
Larsen's staging and pace are excellent and the set design by Mark Guirguis is cinematically appealing with a revolving centerpiece that serves as both car and restaurant booth.
Four Places is intense, remorseless drama at its finest. As in life, at play's end there is resolution and compromise but little sign of happiness.
5 out of 5 stars

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