You know a story is in trouble when the characters need to explain it to each other. Thus when June (Caitlin McCormick), on the heels of her marriage to Billy (Trey Ervine), feels obliged to detail the process by which she pried Billy away from older sister Betty (Elise Edwards) to Betty, who doubtlessly knows everything in sickening detail, we become instantly aware that Florida Days will sacrifice authenticity for exposition. And it does, constantly. “What do you think of our Italian-American Governor, Mario Cuomo,” asks Karen Masih, playing an all-purpose Nasty Lady. Oh, thanks, I had forgotten the Governor’s name, Betty should reply, but doesn’t.
The play is full of howlers and stumpers. “How was the funeral?” Billy blithely asks the mother of a dead child. Later, learning that a character is planning to divorce her husband, he asks, in all seriousness, “how can you? He’s such a great musician!” Vincent (Thomas Linn), treating Betty to a fine meal in the process of courting her, orders another round of wine. It never comes, and he apparently forgets about it. Although the play is set in the seventies and early eighties, the characters constantly refer to Black people as “African-Americans,” a term which did not come into currency until Jesse Jackson coined it in 1988. And so on.
But the worst part of Rachel Bail’s script is that it goes nowhere, slowly. We follow Betty after her unhappy post-wedding encounter with her sister back to New York City (in fact, about 80% of Florida Days is in New York), watch her get a job running a computer in a hotel, watch her get another job as the cosmetics editor for a fashion magazine and then, ultimately, see her tableside with Vincent, where they exchange banalities until Vincent begins to vigorously smooch her. The next morning – we are invited to guess what happened that night – Vincent proposes to her. Bang! In the next scene they have a seven-year-old daughter.
Bail’s style appears to mix extended scenes of meaningless trivia – Billy and Betty reminiscing about the time the alligator chased them out of the swimming hole; Betty’s telephone encounters with the agent she employs to find her work in New York (Jonathan Marget); her bad times working in the hotel; Christmas in Florida with her cranky minister father (Marget), who doesn’t believe in Christmas presents, and the rest of her family; parties at her husband’s unpleasant place of business, and so on – with life-changing incidents, such as Vincent’s proposal. About seventy-five minutes into this one-act drama some real conflict emerges; it is resolved with extraordinary quickness, and its aftermath leaves a sour film over the rest of the play.
The play’s shortcomings are amplified by the players’ inadequacies. There is a medium-size fan on one side of the stage and it drowns out virtually the entire cast, except for the golden-voiced McCormick and Marget, who delivers his lines like a Marine drill sergeant shouting orders. Linn is inaudible for almost all of the play, except for those scenes in which he is screaming, or sobbing. Edwards fares somewhat better; her voice is at sufficient volume for us to detect the Southern dialect (I am not sufficiently learned to tell if it is a full Central Florida accent), even if some of the words float off before they reach the first row. Regrettably, in the middle of the play one of the characters tells her that she has no accent, which seems to subvert the purpose of her work.
You can have a comedy about nothing if your writers are Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. A drama about nothing, however, is an oxymoron. The late, great writing teacher Gary Prevost once said “writing isn’t life. It’s life’s greatest hits.” Unfortunately, Florida Days appears mostly to be life with the greatest hits taken out.
By Rachel Bail
Directed by Stephanie Kelly
Produced by McLean Drama Company
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?