A company called Wellington Road, LLC has produced this 80-minute play by Cate Ryan at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row on 42nd Street, with a company of five featured players, under the direction of Martin Charnin.
Charnin was the original lyricist and director of the very popular musical Annie, made his authentic theatrical debut in 1987 and the gang member in West Side Story who presented his case to a police officer in “Gee, Officer Krupke”. He’s worked with many celebrities as writer and director in TV and cabaret. His many talents have won him Tonys, Grammys, Emmys, and the Peabody Award for Broadcasting. So one has to wonder what attracted him to this well meaning and sincere, but conventionally written drama, dealing with a huge secret in the life of a young man who is about to become a father for the first time. The play introduces us to his parents, and to the parents of his bride. She too is a major character, but she keeps her distance and never quite makes it on to the stage.
Ms. Ryan has written several plays which have been exposed in regional productions, but she also has a B.S. in nursing, and this current work contains many references to the world of medicine. She’s done her research, and the technical sections of the play ring with a fair amount of seeming accuracy. It is in the relationships among the five characters who populate her story that she falls short. Gil and Joyce Osborne, who are parents to Kenny, are reluctantly preparing a simple Easter dinner for his in-laws to celebrate the pregnancy of his offstage wife. Kenny’s arrival with shocking news starts the play’s engine and with the arrival of Jack and Audrey, the in-laws, tension elevates quickly, and in the course of the remaining hour of playing time, Ms. Cate does her best to write eloquently and with insight about these adults caught in a web that is not of their own making.
The evening’s demands are met by the four middle aged actors who play the parents. Paul Carlin and Glynnis O’Connor, Kenny’s parents, have a tough time moving us even remotely like George and Martha, the married couple in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (whom they resemble). For their arguments (and there are many) are of the “you never listen” and “you’ve said that a dozen times” and other superficial squabbly sort of things, which makes them emerge more as the Bickersons than as half of a team of protaganists joined in battle over what and how to deal with the problem that Kenny and his bride present to them.
I can’t tell you more specifically what that problem is, for Ms. Ryan goes to great pains to keep it even from the audience, and it’s only the very real pain felt by Kenny, which young Adam Petherbridge conveys most movingly, that peaks our interest and makes us wish to stick around to see where it all leads. Some of the sudden changes of commitment to an idea are soapy and contrived; once in a while there will be the odd brief one-on-one battle that is truly engaging. But for the most part, the “secrets” that are revealed by the older couples on this fateful Easter, the long stifled admissions that have been paid for over the four lifetimes, are too neatly packaged and explained to move me particularly.
Of the four older character actors, Glynnis O’Connor comes closest to giving us a three dimensional wife and mother, who has sacrificed much for the security of a fairly conventional marriage. The other three have their moments, but they haven’t been able to transcend the rather pedestrian writing used to characterize their dialog. Again, Adam Peterbridge uses some of the better writing in his performance of Kenny to genuinely move us. Not a false note in his work; he lets us see him grow from a still adolescent young husband into a mature and caring adult who will manage the troubled passage with great success.
Mr. Charnin has staged the piece adequately, though the perfectly alright set design by Beowulf Boritt and Alexis Distler seemed to me more suited to a middle class apartment living room, furnished sensibly but without imagination. This might intentionally be meant to convey the proper background for the seemingly average Gil and Joyce, but the program tells us they live in a “long established upscale suburb of Connecticut.” Maybe. But if so, they surely live on the wrong side of town.
A noble attempt to dramatize a difficult subject, which tells a sad story, but there is no majesty in the telling, and it left me informed, but unmoved.