The play opens with Jamie, played by William Seidel, closing up the local Irish pub where he works. The door flies open with a flourish and fury, and a man, played by Michael F. Woodson, blows in. Although it is closing time, he requests a drink and won't take no for an answer. The Man goes over to a video game and astounds Jamie by getting a high score. Abby, Jamie's girlfriend played by Gabriella De Brequet, bounces in and so the stage is set for the reflective drama to begin. The Man offers them an increasingly large amount of money to keep the bar open and sit, chat and drink with him.
Designer James Blair did a masterful job with the set. From the dart board, to the video game, and bottles behind the bar, we have no doubt that we are in a Chicago neighborhood pub circa 1981. I kept looking around to see each perfect detail that he captured. There was no doubt in my mind that I was there. Co-directors Susan Classen and Samantha Cormier have done a commendable job with the casting. The ensemble is delightful in its interactions on stage. With the actors perched on bar stools, and drinking shots, even using the real theatre bathroom, there was no question that a scene in a bar was transpiring. The couples really appear to be very much in love and dialogue flows effortlessly.
Susan Cookie Baker, who plays The Woman, at times, looks like an older version of Gabriella De Brequet and has her mannerisms and subtle gestures down pat. Is she Abby's mom or aunt? We really aren't sure what the connection is until the story unfolds. Baker artfully portrays two very different versions of her character. It is not solely the costumes and hairstyles, but the way she uses her posture, and physical presence on stage to achieve this.
De Brequet's portrayal of Abby was totally enthralling as she daintily sipped her drink, and hungrily gobbled her rice crispy treats. She was able to reveal the character to us with her physicality as well as her emotional vulnerability. Abby is seen as a young woman deeply in love but conflicted as to what the course of her life should be.
Seidel plays Jamie as clumsy and awkward and not quite sure of himself, as young men are. His youthful exuberance is evident from the moment he enters the stage whistling. Where will his life take him? Will he get to play and perform with Miles Davis? The Man, played by Woodson, appears to be the most reflective. Often Woodson's posture reveals a man who somehow is not happy with how his life has evolved. Woodson's portrayal of the character's inner dialogue and conflict is revealed by the simultaneous strength and uncertainty of the character.
It seems to be The Man's story. If there is any fault with the play, it is in the story itself. Was it truly the couple's decision to change the course of their lives, or was it primarily the man's decision? It appears that his is the driving force. Of course the play is set in 1981 and is perhaps reflective of the dynamics in relationships that was prevalent at the time. It is also written by a man. That being said, this is an incredible feel-good play that will leave you smiling as you exit. Laughter, joy and hope were evident as the audience was exiting the theatre. Love is the theme of IT's 29th season. Even a confirmed skeptic about love in 2019 will leave with a renewed feeling that love does indeed trump all else. ■
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