‘THIS’ at Vienna Theatre Company by Annie Bradley Ermlick

As described by Alan in Melissa James Gibson’s THIS, middle age is, “a sense of intense urgency mixed with exhaustion.” Making its Northern Virginia area debut, the Vienna Theatre Company presents the play THIS, a witty comedy-filled with searing, intelligent characters, which explores the crossroads that face five friends pushing against middle age. The play is based upon relationships, infidelity, lust, betrayal, and loss, the aftershock of a traumatic event, the trials of parenthood, and some contemporary attitudes about social status. It also explores the changing faces of love through the eyes of deeply layered friendships, children, and marriages.

Matthew Randall (Alan) and Shannon Benton (Jane). Photo by Jessica  Sperlongano.

Matthew Randall (Alan) and Shannon Benton (Jane). Photo by Jessica Sperlongano.

The plot of THIS focuses on what each character needs to do in order to find his or her way to overcome obstacles and move forward into the next chapter of his or her life. Written by Obie Award-winning Canadian Author Melissa James Gibson, THIS made its World Premiere Off-Broadway in 2009

Tom Flatt has a great cast to work with, and his effective direction made the transitions of the show flow seamlessly. The chemistry and fine performances he receives from his talented group of actors makes the show a rousing success.

There were many strong moments during the production and some standout performances. Matthew Randall, who plays the role of Alan, made the strongest impression on me as the Jewish friend of the group. Randall is both hilarious, talkative, yet endearing and delivers his lines with perfect timing and with dry sardonic wit. Alan cuts the tension during the play by serving as most-welcomed comedic relief. He also has a photographic memory and can recall the exact words of every conversation he’s ever heard. Instead of the emotion-filled words that people think they remember, Alan feels it is both a blessing and a curse. He is  extremely likable because he cares,and instead of complaining and whining about his inner battles, he faces them head-on with humor and a whole lot of alcohol. Randall’s performance is a tour de force.

Shannon Benton’s Jane, a  poet who is grieving for her late husband and having a hard time coping, as Alan describes, is indeed,”pretty and likeable.” Benton has many heartfelt moments throughout the show, including one where she delivers a moving speech about surviving spouses when Jane says, “Surviving spouses become blank slates onto which everyone projects this tragic sheen that they secretly hope that their own deaths will one day engender.” She is moved to tears in a few tender moments in the show and I and other audience members felt her pain, frustration, and loneliness that she has been holding on to for the past year. Benton delivers a powerful and heartfelt performance.

The married couple – Marrell and Tom – as played by Rikki Howie and Kevin Walker – are looking for a way to find one another again as a couple. There is a clear strain on their relationship as Kevin searches for a ‘connection’ with other women. Walker is quite convincing as the adulterer.

Howie commands the stage as she displays a kaleidoscope of emotions in her wonderful performance as the frustrated Marrell. From her first scene as a new mom and hostess of the evening, Marrell is also trying to play matchmaker between her best friend Jane and a newcomer to the group – Jean-Pierre (the confident, slow-burning, and funny Allen McRae), while still constantly verbally emasculating her husband Tom. Her vulnerability and her expression of her love for her child —despite the chaos that is going on in her life—is heartfelt and convincing. And Marrell is also a jazz singer, and those of us who know Howie’s work know that she can sing! Her smooth, expressive vocals are resonant and spine-tingling.

The design of the show is quite impressive. The lighting and set compliment the many projections by Jon Roberts (who also was Sound Designer) and Ed Conley. Lighting Designer AnnMarie Castrigno matches each scene with specific mood lighting and other creative ways to color each scene. Kevin King’s set design is ingenious. It makes the transitions flawless with swinging hinged flats that open up and slide out – with carpet underneath to minimize sound – and make them glide smoothly. I particularly like the abstract art that evokes the clean streamlined and modern NYC apartment.

Composer and Accompanist Scott Richards has composed new music used before the show and during set changes, and the music sets the atmosphere and tone of the story.

From left: Shannon Benton(Jane), Rikki Howie (Marrell), and Allen McRae (Jean-Pierre). Photo by Jessica  Sperlongano.

From left: Shannon Benton(Jane), Rikki Howie (Marrell), and Allen McRae (Jean-Pierre). Photo by Jessica Sperlongano.

Finally, kudos to to the fabulous costumes designed by Susan Boyd. Her use of color and variety of attire successfully reflects the personalities of the characters perfectly.

Vienna Theatre Company’s beautifully directed and performed production of This is filled with universal themes and clever and lovely design. You must get tickets to ‘this’ show.

Running time two hours and ten minutes plus 15-minute intermission.


This plays through February 9, 2014 at Vienna Theatre Company performing at The Vienna Community Center – 120 Cherry Street, SE, in Vienna, VA.

Tickets may be purchased at the Vienna Community Center any time the Community Center is open or before the performance you wish to attend. The Community Center accepts payment in the form of cash or checks made out to The Town of Vienna. Tickets may be reserved in advance by sending an email to VTCshows@yahoo.com at by noon on the day of an evening performance and by 5:00 PM the day before a matinee.

Please indicate the date of the performance, the number of tickets being reserved, the type of ticket (general admission, senior/student) and the name under which to hold tickets.

Ticket Price is $13, and seating is General Admission.

Read Director Tom Flatt’s behind-the-scenes article: Directing ‘This’ by Melissa James Gibson at Vienna Theatre Company.


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