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Weddings and Writers

Live Theatre Workshop goes lighthearted, while Beowulf Alley tugs at your heartstrings

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If you're in the mood for some light and bright entertainment, check out Live Theatre Workshop's production of Paul Rudnick's Regrets Only. If it doesn't bring you some laughs with its smart satire, zinging dialogue and, at times, sheer absurdity, you might want to check your pulse.

Rudnick's story is a jesting look at marriage, millennial style, and that would, of course, include gay marriage. He devises a situation in which it is revealed to folks who never think about these things the far-reaching contributions of the gay and lesbian population to what makes our culture tick. And the folks we meet in his story are led to think a little differently about an issue to which they have given little consideration and about which they have had little conviction.

We first meet tuxedo-clad Hank Hadly (Keith Wick) as he arrives at the Manhattan penthouse of Tibby (Lesley Abrams) and Jack (Michael Woodson), who, judging by the digs and the maid (Rhonda Hallquist) who welcomes him, are quite well off. Hank is there to reunite with dear friend Tibby, with whom he has planned an evening full of social engagements. We learn that Hank, who is a successful fashion designer, has not been up to socializing much since the death of his partner of 28 years, Mike. He and Tibby, dressed in elegant evening attire, share drinks and conversation, bantering and dishing about the various shortcomings of their high society friends. They obviously are fond of each other and share a bond born of years of such banter and dishing.

They are joined first by Spencer (Amanda Gremel), Jack and Tibby's grown daughter, a high achiever following her father's path into practicing law, who announces she has just become engaged. Jack returns home from work and announces that the president—as in President of the United States—has asked for his help in drafting a constitutional amendment "protecting" marriage, meaning that it exists only between a man and woman. They seem pretty clueless that this might be offensive to Hank, but Hank assures them that although Mike was keen on the idea of gay marriage, he doesn't possess much interest in the matter.

But as he and Tibby talk and the act draws to an end, Hank seems increasingly thoughtful, declining to pursue an evening of outside socializing.

The next act reveals a very nervous Spencer who can't get any of her wedding personnel—including Hank—to respond to her phone calls; a Tibby who has had to seek out a new hairdresser with hideous results; and Tibby's mother (Pat Timm) who has discovered that all the shows on Broadway she wanted to see have been cancelled. See where this is going?

Director Sabian Trout seems to have lit a fire under her ensemble to keep the action lively and the dialogue snappy, and the group is chock full of veteran actors who are no strangers to getting laughs. Rudnick's play, even with a serious issue as its subject, is always first a comedy. It's both silly and smart entertainment, and LTW delivers a really fun production.

Beowulf Alley Theatre sets a completely different tone with its production of Craig Wright's play, The Pavilion. It's as sweet and poignant as Regrets Only is raucous.

The setting for Wright's play is a 20th high school reunion in the small Minnesota town of Pine City. It's being held at the Pavilion, a local landmark slated to be destroyed after the festivities. Utilizing such a setting is a frequent convention for writers because it is ripe with possibilities for all manner of mishaps, memories, and even philosophical musings. Wright is attracted to the latter, and he builds into his story—often by way of a narrator reminiscent of the one in Thornton Wilder's Our Town—plenty of chances for us to consider the mistakes of youth, lost opportunities, the hopeless desires for a "do-over" and how we are borne along in time's inexorable passage.

In this case, the focus is on Peter (Michael "Miko" Gifford), a psychologist who has returned to Pine City with the idea of attempting to make amends with Kari (Lisa Mae Roether), whom he deserted after their senior year of high school when he learned that their careless and youthful passion has resulted in Kari's pregnancy. Kari, who has remained in her hometown, is married to Hans, who took pity on her as damaged goods after her abortion and who, according to Kari, is a boring, golf-obsessed husband who resents her for not giving him any children. But, she claims, she has no real complaints about her life.

When Peter first approaches Kari, he is told she has no interest in even speaking to him. At another point in the evening, when he approaches her again, Kari berates and rebukes him, and gives him a blast of the anger she has carried for 20 years. Huge, hurtful actions are not easily undone, and as the party fades into the night, Peter's hopes for reconciliation begin to fade as well, leading him to fear he has missed his once chance for happiness.

Wright's story is not really a new one, but the way he approaches it gives it a refreshing spin. His narrator (Martie van der Voort), who delivers Wright's poetic and existential context to the evening's actions, also plays more than a dozen attendees of the reunion, which not only gives the proceedings a bit of breadth beyond Peter and Kari's drama, but provides some comic moments as we recognize both the awkward conversations and the genuine delight always present when classmates reunite.

The production is directed by Whitney Morton. And although short on professional polish, it does deliver a sweet and tender tale. In particular, Roether as Kari develops a genuine character with depth and credibility, and although van der Voort has an almost impossibly challenging job in creating her many characters, she performs admirably.

Wright's tale, although small, resonates with life's larger mysteries: irreconcilable relationships, love and loss, and our minuscule moment in the universe.

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