Frank Anthony Polito’s new play, being given its world premiere at Compass Rose Theater, owes a debt of gratitude to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, both being quiet plays about ordinary days and the remarkable moments within them. Yet Another Day on Willow St is very much its own rumination on relationships, communication, aspirations and disappointments. It touches the heart, elicits laughter and, by the final curtain, leaves us with something to think about.
Focusing on the lives of two couples, the 75 minute character study unfolds like chamber music, easily moving from solos, to duets, to small ensembles and back again. Polito uses language in a vivid manner, pleasing to the ear and dramatically effective. Poetic images mingle with dialogue that rings with truth and keeps the play moving with a steady symmetry.
When the play opens, each couple’s milieu is defined clearly: on stage right, Wall Street banker Ian (Ric Anderson) wakes up describing a morning in bed with his wife Stacey (Renata Plecha). Interwoven with Ian’s speech, on the opposite side of the stage, Paul (Anthony Bosco) shares his tender thoughts on snoozing beside his boyfriend of five years, Mark (Jonathan Lee Taylor). The scene is short, each character’s words blend and complement each other, but it establishes the relationships effectively.
Mark is a struggling actor who is determined stay in the closet to protect his uptight parents, while Paul pressures him to move back to Boston so they can really be together. Stacey is on the verge of leaving her career in publishing in order to, at Ian’s urging, become a stay-at-home mom.
Throughout the play, Polito highlights the similarities and differences between the straight and gay couple. Ian works long hours at the bank while Stacey is resentful of giving up her job. Their lives are about to change soon as they welcome a baby girl. Paul and Mark’s long distance romance has its share of conflicts. Paul’s law practice keeps him grounded in New York City while Mark’s life as a professional actor could take him out of town at anytime. Inevitably, the lives of the two couples intersect and relationships take on new dimensions.
Under the sure-handed direction of Compass Rose founder Lucinda Merry-Browne, Another Day on Willow St is perfectly situated in the company’s black box theater. Merry-Browne uses well-defined playing areas – thanks in large part to Chris Timko’s precise lighting design – so that each scene flows organically. Director and designer also have one, simple yet striking lighting trick up their sleeve that I won’t reveal, but you will appreciate it when you see it.
As for the four-person cast, the play is in excellent hands. The ensemble work is exceptional, and so are the individual actors.
Taylor and Bosco capture the complexities of Mark and Paul’s relationship. Their well-matched chemistry points up the contrast between Mark’s closeted public side and his uninhibited private life, coinciding with Paul’s sometimes repressed nature and his desire for a deeper relationship. I detected some exchanges in their dialogue that verged on cliché, but the actors make it work.
ANOTHER DAY ON WILLOW ST
Closes June 1, 2014
Compass Rose Studio Theater
49 Spa Road
1 hour, 15 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Ian and Stacey, two workaholic professionals, must find a way to balance work and family. Plecha easily shows the uneasiness of a woman who is used to 10 hour work days at odds with impending motherhood. Anderson combines affability with determination to portray a banker who wants what he thinks is best for his wife and unborn child.
Early in the play, Paul says to Mark that life is really about “love, family and commitment.” It’s the underlying theme of the play and, as each character tried to find their way, I was right there, rooting for them to make it.
There is one more dimension to Another Day on Willow St that adds another layer of interest. The play is set in early September, 2001, in the days leading up to 9/11. Significant, yes, but the date is simply another day on the calendar for Mark, Paul, Ian and Stacey. The playwright uses that date to leave the audience with the greater sense of how we should treasure each other – that a single day in our lives may not always be just “another day.”
Note: Compass Rose Theater advises: “Adult themes, appropriate for ages 16 and up.”
Another Day in Willow St. by Frank Anthony Polito . Directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne . Featuring Jonathan Lee Taylor, Renata Plecha, Ric Anderson, Anthony Bosco. Lighting designer Chris Timko . Costume Designer Julie Bays . Props by JoAnn and Mike Gidos . Produced by Compass Rose Theater . Reviewed by Jeff Walker