This is What We Care About— Theaterworks Production Smart and Relevant

By Amy J. Barry

When old friends get together in real life, it’s likely their repartee isn’t as wonderfully witty, their banter so perfectly pitched, their sarcasm so sweet as it is between the five characters in This at Hartford’s Theaterworks.
 
But that’s the difference between art and the less glamorous reality of our lives, although one thing is clear, the play wouldn’t work if the dialogue wasn’t believable and the characters weren’t relatable. Luckily, both ring true.
 
Melissa James Gibson has written a deliciously funny, touching, and relevant contemporary drama with characters we care about—and it’s so tightly crafted and executed in such an engaging way, under director Amy Saltz’s observant eye that time truly flies and seat squirming isn’t an issue in the two-hour plus intermission production.
 
The four friends, in their early 40s, have known each other since college. The fifth wheel, as it were, is the dreamy visiting doctor Jean-Pierre (Maxime De Toledo), whose job as outsider is to offer his take on the unusual group dynamic from a decidedly French perspective.
 
Alan (Andrew Rein) is the comic relief—a gay Jew, who is also somewhat the outsider/observer in the group. His droll commentaries on life and his own self-parodies are incredibly funny and Rein is well matched to his role.
 
“I realized that my life is an American movie that wants to be a foreign film,” he laments.
 
Annoyed that people are always asking each other what they do, which really translates into “How much money do you make?” Alan asks Jean Pierre, a Doctor Without Borders, if he thinks he could become “A Moneylender Without Borders.”
 
Alan is a celebrity mnemonist—he can recall the exact conversations and details of past events, and fascinatingly, in a key scene, keeps the other characters from indulging in the revisionist history of their own distorted perceptions.
 
Tom (Clark Carmichael) and Marrell (Tijuana T. Ricks) have a new baby and it’s having a negative impact on their sex life. Like all good helicopter parents, they time every nap and worry about every detail. Marrell is annoyingly controlling about her environment and her husband. She is also a singer, who punishes Tom with the lyrics she writes. Although Rick gives her best to the role, it’s hard to get a hold on what makes Marrell tick.
 
Beth Wittig is charming and sincere as Jane, who is cute and flakey, brooding and serious. A poet who hasn’t published anything in 12 years and works as a part-time proctor/teacher, she is a single mother, who isn’t coping very well with the death of her husband one year earlier.
 
Jane unknowingly seals her fate when she reluctantly agrees to play a question-and-answer game —which everyone, besides her, is in on. The game foreshadows a sexual transgression initiated by the unhappy Tom, who besides his marriage woes is insecure about being a woodworker without the college degree the others all have.
 
Jane can’t forgive herself for sleeping with her best friend’s husband.
 
The likable characters are always sorry, they’re always tired—welcome to the 21st century. They fumble through life, each trying to find their own way, while staying connected.
 
In a poignant final scene, the biting humor and quipping ceases, and Jane finally comes to terms with the enormity of her grief—collapsing on the floor with an urn that holds her husband’s ashes. And after a long list of apologies, this time to her daughter, she finally begins to forgive herself.
 
Sets, smartly designed by Luke Hegel-Cantarella, fluidly shift from Tom and Marrell’s chic apartment to a nightclub where Marrell performs, to a solitary and symbolic open door that the characters just can’t seem to get through. Marcus Doshi’s warm interior lighting enhances the superb production.
 
This is at Theaterworks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford, through Feb. 27. For tickets call 860-527-7838 or online www.theaterworkshartford.org.
 
This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers Feb. 17, 2011 and online at Zip06.com.

 

 

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