Today is just like any other day; a normal ordinary day. Until it isn’t any more. Today should be the day that you stop procrastinating and go to Compass Rose Theater to see the world premier of Another Day on Willow Street. An evocative new work that sends chills up your spine-it’s an emotionally gripping drama that reminds audiences to cherish each and every day as no one can be certain what tomorrow brings. Written by Frank Anthony Polito and Directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne, the play is an exciting new work that reminds audiences how each day is precious no matter what else is going on in our lives.
Playwright Frank Anthony Polito has managed to write a post-9/11 play that brings the tragedy of that historic event into the topic into focus in a subtle manner. One of the first of its kind where the focus is not on the tragedy itself or the aftermath of the tragedy, Polito’s story follows two couples— one heterosexual and one homosexual— and the struggles of their day-to-day lives leading up to the event. Polito is successful in using the notions and emotions associated with 9/11 in a sparing manner, allowing the audience to focus on the characters and their stories as they develop. Polito’s use of phrasing and scenic repetition is brilliant; creating a loop of life that is inescapable until it is not. Mirroring sentences and even scenes of dialogue from one couple to another shows how very similar the lives of strangers can be; a symbolic tie-in for the overarching concept of the show.
Director Lucinda Merry-Browne brings the lively atmosphere of New York City into the intimate space of Compass Rose by lining the walls on either side of the house with cityscape portraits of the big apple. Important land-marker icons to emerge the audience into the location of the play. Props Designers JoAnn and Mike Gidos keep the authenticity of 2001 by finding enormous old-fashioned cell-phones for the characters to use as well as other little objects that remind the audience of when the action is happening.
It’s Merry-Browne’s overall use of the space that keeps the audience intrigued. Tight focused spotlights (compliments of Lighting Designer Chris Timko) help keep the individual scenes between the two couples distinct from one another. Timko’s layout of lighting every time the opening speech is repeated is quite striking, creating a moment frozen in time. Merry-Browne makes exceptional use of the upper-tier of the quaint stage; symbolically placing the scenes in Boston up on that riser while the scenes in New York occur below on the main stage mirroring how Boston is geographically north of NYC. Many of the initial conversations between characters are phone calls. Merry-Browne turns these into relatable human interactions by having the characters lower their phones to their sides midway through these conversations and actually face each other. This decision to give the conversation the emotional connection and physical eye-contact that would otherwise be lost in a standard phone call is a brilliant layering of emotional depth.
The show does move along a bit slowly at first, though the phone conversations themselves are quick. There are no drastic changes of set or costume so the moments spent in blackout between scenes could stand to be tighter. Otherwise the show gains momentum as it moves along toward the conclusion, each scene building on the one previous to it; gathering emotional strength until the chilling conclusion.
The four performers play exceptionally well together. Each has a vibrant ‘give and take’ in the chemistry that they share with the other person in their couple as well as the other characters once their paths begin to cross. Ian (Ric Anderson) as the high-powered wall street executive, shows the least amount of character progression, but in a way this is fitting as it suits the stereotype of humdrum of his busy business life. Anderson’s recitations of lines after a while sound rote and he does not initially show much emotional depth to his character, but his delivery of the “ordinary morning” speech is quite haunting.
Mark (Jonathan Lee Taylor) and Paul (Anthony Bosco) play opposite one another as they committed homosexual couple. Both Taylor and Bosco play into the flamboyant stereotype that identifies their characters as gay. Taylor, being the more animated of the two, delivers a lot of the underlying moments of humor in the production, while often balancing a great deal of the drama as well. When he and Bosco’s character fight the tension feels heightened, driven by love. Bosco has a way of making his wounded words sting when aiming at Taylor’s character; truly capturing the essence of lover’s quarrels when the subject matters are grave.
Stacey (Renata Plecha) is a vibrant burst of sunlight on the stage in this production. Bubbly, energetic, and very animated, Plecha brings a dynamic portrayal to shake things up among her three male co-stars. Allowing her emotions to transcend her physicality as well as her vocal approach, Plecha reflects the character’s pregnant hormones with perfection, making her at the best of times seem just a little emotionally unstable. With true vim and vigor motivating her performance, she breathes enough life for two into the character.
A truly stunning emotional work, Another Day on Willow Street is a great way to close the season. Be sure to catch it during its limited run engagement.
Running Time: Approximately One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.