Some plays invite audiences to ask themselves vexing questions: What is the meaning of life? How long is a life well-lived?
As King Solomon wrote in the Old Testament:
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
Dancing at Midnight, with its themes of terminal illness and family feuding, is a play that makes audiences think about the brevity of life. Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Dancing at Midnight, written and crisply directed by Wolf Pack founder William Dean Leary, at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, is a thoughtful two-hour peek into a family that we all know, or know of, in one way or another.
At it’s core, the play is about letting loved ones be themselves and make their own decisions in this case, letting them go emotionally as they face the ultimate journey for us all, death. Taking place from Halloween through New Year’s, Dancing at Midnight follows the tribulations of the Mason family, whose oldest daughter Caroline (Allison Turkel) fights an aggressive brain tumor. Turkel’s performance, which took her from sick but functioning to close to death’s door, was full of richness and depth, heartbreaking at its core.
The loving matriarch of the family, Elizabeth, believes she can will her grown daughter Caroline into a longer life. It is Elizabeth that refuses to cooperate with reality and let Caroline go. Sue Schaffel as Elizabeth (so good in The Highwood Theatre’s Other Desert Cities), gave a performance full of pathos and pain as a parent suffering the hell of a child facing end of life. Schaffel’s scenes with Turkel were mesmerizing, and her scenes with Wolf Pack veteran Stanley Livengood, as her 38-years-married husband Paul, amusing, especially when they bickered over things like Halloween candy.
It was the caring exhibited by Caroline’s siblings that fueled many of the stronger performances in Dancing at Midnight. Caroline’s brother Jim (well played by Nick Duckworth) and sister Angie (Betse Lyons) comforted Caroline through her sickness and supported the way she chose to handle it. Paul Davis’ portrayal of Caroline’s husband Brad was emotionally wrenching. Davis (who was outstanding enough in Leary’s kinK last year to earn this publication’s Take a Bow nod) embodied a husband embracing married life “as bad as it can get.” Michael Mangiapane as Jim’s partner Scott, and Steven Barroga as Angie’s boyfriend Allen, rounded out the pitch perfect cast.
Wolf Pack veteran Susan L. Smithers’ directorial support helped create memorable performances by the cast, which earned them a standing ovation. An impressive component of Dancing at Midnight was playwright\composer Stephen Geddes’ pre-recorded songs “Life’s Light”, “Waiting Worth It”, and “Fireflies in the Rain.” Geddes wrote Memories & Legends, which Leary directed last year at Greenbelt Arts Center. Schaffel and Livengood’s Halloween costumes were a comic sight to behold thanks to costumers Dannielle Beitzell and Eileen Murray Kraft. Leary’s set design of the Mason’s living room included a vintage 70s electric fireplace.
With touches of humor and lots of angst, Dancing at Midnight is an unforgettably moving journey through the trials of a family in crisis, a gem for families everywhere.
Dancing at Midnight plays through May 13, 2017, at Wolf Pack Theatre Company performing at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – 5820 Riverdale Road, in Riverdale, MD. For ticket information and reservations, call (240) 271-5471, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or purchase them online.