Playwright Melissa James Gibson wants you to know that “this”- whatever it is you’re dealing with at the moment – may be entirely “dinky” in the grand scheme of things.
Gibson’s aptly-named 2009 play This is both blunt and cutting (if such a thing is possible ) as it examines friendship, adultery and the re-evaluation of life in general, and just funny enough to make the whole experience feel friendly and inviting.
This opens to a small gathering of 40-somethings playing party games in an urban apartment. Marrell and Tom (Felicia Curry and Todd Scofield), two under-slept parents adjusting to the realities of living with a baby, are joined by friends Jane (Lise Bruneau), a poet who hasn’t successfully published in over a decade, Alan (Michael Glen), a gay mnemonist desperate for a vocation that doesn’t involve parlor tricks, and Jean-Pierre (Will Gartshore), a handsome French “doctor without borders” visiting from overseas.
“Jane hates games,” we’re told, but in the opening scene she nonetheless is made the subject of a question-and-answer game that invites the audience to laugh even as they’re exposed to some of Jane’s more uncomfortable vulnerabilities. When Merrill’s husband Tom shows up on her doorstep later to profess his feelings for her, however, the play quickly reveals that more than a little is amiss amongst this crew of old college friends.
The rest of the play is devoted to the internal struggles of Gibson’s characters. Merrell struggles to find romance in her marriage after the birth of a child. Tom struggles with secret desires and his blue-collar insecurities. Alan struggles to commit himself to a job with meaning and purpose. Jane struggles to reconcile her life in the face of her husband’s death. Jean-Pierre…seems to be doing just fine, but in general there is a lot of struggling going on.
Still, the play is damn funny. For all the seriousness of a play about betrayal and self-awareness, This has an entirely sitcom-like quality to it.
If that sounds like a critique, it isn’t, but much of the humor of the play will transport the audience to Central Perk on the set of Friends. Comedy is delivered largely through Michael Glen’s portrayal of Alan, who channels Matthew Perry as he answers rhetorical questions with droll wit and uses his supernatural memory to put characters in their place, even in moments of utter vulnerability. All told, Glen offers some much-needed levity to the work with unflappable charm.
Glen is joined by an equally skilled cast across the board. Lise Bruneau’s Jane is conflicted and adrift, but keeps it together well enough to remain a sympathetic character. Likewise, Todd Scofield’s Tom is dopey and without perspective, but he’s relatable and even likeable nonetheless. Will Gartshore’s Jean-Pierre offers just the right amount of foreign appeal, and Felicia Curry – who can hang minor notes like curtains over the audience – uses her strong voice thoughtfully throughout.
Set designer James Kronzer also deserves a standing ovation for a rotating, interlocking set that would make M.C. Escher raise his eyebrows, while Director Ryan Rilette deserves equal praise for guiding his talented cast through scenes with seamless transitions.
Closes November 3, 2013
Round House Theatre – Bethesda
4545 East-West Highway
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Tuesdays thru Sundays
The audience is also teased with tidbits of information about a troubled relationship between Jane and her daughter, but too little is disclosed to make this anything other than a sporadically highlighted aside in the wider work.
Still, Melissa James Gibson’s script generally is as funny as it is thoughtful, and it challenges what she clearly sees as a self-absorbed – if likeable – yuppie class.
The petty concerns of daily life may be “dinky,” as Jean-Pierre so glibly offers, but This is anything but. The play is big and bold, and a smart addition to Round House Theater’s list of successes.
This by Melissa James Gibson . Directed by Ryan Rilette . Featuring Lise Bruneau, Felicia Curry, Will Gartshore, Michael Glenn, and Todd Scofield . Scenic designer: James Kronzer . Costume designer: Ivania Stack . Lighting designer: Daniel MacLean Wagner . Composer/sound designer: Eric Shimelonis . Props master Andrea Moore . Stage manager: Bekah Wachenfeld . Produced by Round House Theatre . Reviewed by Jon Boughtin.