Sunday, August 14, 2011

Caldwell Theatre: Six Years (4 reviews)

Caldwell Theatre Company opened its production of Sharr White's Six Years on August 10, 2011.
Phil Granger returns home from the war. Two years later than expected. His wife, Meredith, asks few questions and comforts him. Off goes the quintessential "Greatest Generation" couple, embarking on the American Dream. Sharr White's fascinating tale follows this couple over the course of five separate scenes, each set six years apart, charting their journey through a "Levittown like" real estate development financial success, "Mad Men like" early 60's uncertainties, and finally "Vietnam era" complications now as the parents of an enlisted soldier. Six Years, tells the story of America in a riveting homegrown drama reminiscent of the classic American playwrights, Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neil.
Clive Cholerton directed a cast that featured Todd Allen Durkin, Margery Lowe, Greg Weiner, David Perez-Ribada, Natasha Sherritt, Betsy Graver, and Michael Focas.

John LaRiviere reviewed for Talkin' Broadway:
From the first sentence of the play, there is a heartwrenching quality in Margery Lowe's performance as Meredith. Even in her more confident and seemingly carefree moments, her character's subtext is filled with an aching emotional loneliness. She masters the playwright's use of self-abortive sentences fraught with the character's anxiety of what to say when so very much is at stake. Todd Allen Durkin as Phil Granger evolves from an emotionally broken man to one who is stronger but still scarred by war experiences. There is an edge to his portrayal that speaks of unpredictability. The couple's tortured relationship is a dark commentary on the war's lasting effects on the human heart.

Scenic designer Tim Bennett admirably represents the style of each new time period with his ever-changing home décor and color schemes. Transitions between time periods are assisted by news item and pop-culture projections provided by Sean Lawson. While most of the supporting cast is strong, the story rests in the hands of Lowe and Durkin. This powerful story is a somber statement of human nature sadly stripped of any trace of the romance that binds husband to wife. However depressing it may be, as a character study it is endlessly fascinating.
Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
...Perhaps because of the episodic nature of the script’s five brief scenes, White is never able to impart much depth to his characters and the effect is disappointingly soap-operatic.

What’s worse, so little changes for the two of them -- Phil remains rudderless and confused and Meredith is awfully shrill throughout – and that has a way of keeping us at arm’s length from the characters.
Despite the underwritten role, Todd Allen Durkin manages to draw the audience into Phil’s plight with a performance of aching extremes, from deadened expressions to fits of rage. In contrast, Margery Lowe’s Meredith is settles for a single note of strident anger, where White surely did not intend to turn the audience off to her.
The always interesting Gregg Weiner lends solid, though thankless, support as Meredith’s brother and Betsy Graver makes a lot of her single scene as an airport cocktail lounge pick-up, initially drawn to the transparently lonely Phil.
John Thomason reviewed for The Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Watching Todd Allen Durkin wend his way through a character as hefty and complex as his latest host body — a shell-shocked World War II veteran marooned in St. Louis in the Caldwell's Six Years — is nothing short of a gift. In his Caldwell debut, Durkin is jittery and volcanic, as booming as a thunderbolt and as fragile as a Fabergé egg. Whether drifting in a zombie stupor or pacing the stage like a shark, the transformations he undergoes are striking and unpredictable.
Six Years is an unflinching, quintessentially American story, because it puts a harsh spotlight on the things we Americans do best: divorce, infidelity, war, death, destruction, suburban development, and fast food. Love is somewhere in there too...
This is a bleak story, one among many bleak narratives about this particular era of American history. So its illuminations are not as profound as they aim to be. To its credit, the characters never become props for dry historical travelogues or pedantic lessons in the generational Zeitgeist scored by "The Times They Are a' Changin'."
Margery Lowe shares most of the stage time with the electric Durkin, and she does a good job in a far less dramatic role.
The supporting cast runs the gamut from the thankless — Michael Focas, as Phil and Meredith's son, has all of one word of dialogue in two eyeblink-length scenes toward the end — to the underused: Gregg Weiner capably plays the minor and unassuming role of Meredith's brother Jack, which is equivalent to casting Laurence Olivier as a Stormtrooper. As Meredith's friend Tom, David Perez-Ribada has the most emotionally rich secondary part; his every action is deeply felt. And Betsy Graver sparkles with Jackie-O elegance in her too-brief role as the sounding board for Phil's midplay implosion.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Newly opened at Boca Raton’s Caldwell Theatre Company, Six Years is the opposite of light summer fare. This is serious theater, an episodic play that deftly illustrates how the history of the Greatest Generation has sobering current relevance. The Caldwell’s mix of theatergoers... will find Six Years resonating in different ways. But for just about anyone, the play does resonate.
Director Clive Cholerton has assembled a powerhouse cast to tell a story that begins in 1949 and ends in 1973. His two leads – Todd Allen Durkin as World War II vet Phil Granger, Margery Lowe as Phil’s tiny but tough wife Meredith – have the challenge of playing characters that have notably changed in each of White’s six-year time jumps, and both actors deliver hard-hitting, impressive performances.
The Caldwell’s terrific design team... expertly takes the Grangers and the audience from the dawn of the ‘50s through the Mad Men era to the tumult of the ‘70s.

Six Years is a very good, if not great, play. The Caldwell gives it a compelling ride, one that begins and ends with loss, followed by that thing that sustains individuals and nations through the dark times: the faintest spark of hope.
The Caldwell Theatre Company production of Six Years will play through September 4, 2011.

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