If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“Midsummer” Concludes TheaterWorks Season

The gala 30th anniversary of TheaterWorks in Hartford has had, it must be acknowledged, far more misses than hits this season. But they are ending quite happily, thank you, first with their fine production of Tanya Barfield’s “The Call” last June and now with “Midsummer”, David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s “play with songs” that is fairly irresistible and should leave audiences departing the theatre with silly smiles plastered on their faces.

Helena (Rebecca Hart) and Bob (M. Scott McLean) are two lonely people facing personal mid-life crises who have absolutely no reason to connect. In “Midsummer”, however, you really hope they do since the actors have such magnetic chemistry playing off each other in a series of ever-complicated short scenes, that you simply can’t wait for that eventual long, loving kiss and slow fade-out. Bob is a low-level criminal taking his orders from a not-so-big big shot whom he decides to steal from the same day he meets Helena.

Helena is a divorce lawyer unhappy at love and about to be yet another bridesmaid, this time for her unlikable sister. They meet in a bar under a series of different scenarios amusingly reported by Helena directly to the audience. "Midsummer", which is set in Edinburgh, has both actors sharing the narrative and doing so with spot-on Scottish accents. As the play moves on to its expected conclusion, we come to know and like this quirky couple and root for their success.

Mr. McLean, who approaches adorable status here, has many comical moments the high-point being a heated exchange he has with his...ahem...penis. Hilarious and pointedly honest, the shock of recognition for the male portion of the audience during the monologue was unmistakable. Meeting him scene-for-scene is the delectable Miss Hart, whose vulnerability and basic decency make for a truly heroic heroine. You want her to "save" this misguided fellow (and herself in the process) and you want Bob to become more grounded by the love of a good woman. Characters you truly care about and believe as a couple are rare in the theatre and McLean and Hart achieve this goal with admirable finesse.

Director Tracy Brigden has a nice, relaxed way with her actors and a perceptive understanding of the Scottish working class. Based on her well-received 2015 production at City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh, the play would nonetheless benefit with at least 20 minutes of trimming. Even at a brisk 100 minutes (no intermission), it seems to end at least three times. The music is melodic without being particularly memorable which sets it apart from "Once", the recent Broadway musical to which "Midsummer" has often been compared. Narelle Sissons' scenic and costume design works well though the junk-shop setting, which takes up most of the upstage area, calls to mind David Mamet's "American Buffalo" and seems at odds with the play's central romance. Still, with McLean and Hart leading us by the hand (and heart), "Midsummer" can't help but strike the right chords throughout. It's a midsummer pleasure.

“Midsummer” continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through August 21. For further information or ticket reservations call the box office at: 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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