Thursday, December 10, 2015

New Theatre: Two Weekends and a Day (reviews)

New Theatre opened the world premiere production of Two Weekends and a Day on November 21, 2015.
Penned by local playwright Susan Westfall, this new work is set on one couple's beachside porch and another couple's country deck, over the course of two weekends and a day. This sexy and bittersweet play follows the friendship of four adults who, in the words of Jimmy Buffett, are growing older... and finally growing up through the most devastating moments in their lives... after mid-life crisis. The play was conceived with the help of the Cultural Affairs Departments Playwrighting Development Program alongside the mentorship of Deborah Zoe Laufer in 2014.
Ricky J. Martinez directed a cast that included Susie Kreitman Taylor, Barbara Sloan, R. Kent Wilson, Kim Ostrenko, Evelyn Perez, and Clinton Archambault.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Under the guidance of artistic director Ricky J. Martinez, Two Weekends and a Day tells its story clearly as it swings from weekend to weekend, then at last to that day of resolution
Westfall has much to say about marital restlessness and recklessness, about how living out an enduring fantasy can feel so exhilarating in the moment, then engender such guilt or regret or longing afterwards… As with many first productions of new work, the script could benefit from some trimming and revision. Though the program notes that the play’s running time is an hour and a half, it’s actually a full hour longer than that, and it doesn’t need to be…
The work by the cast varies, though most of the performances effectively bring these new characters to life. Though Sloan must play an unhappy woman who treats her husband badly and acts out inappropriately, the magnetic performer always makes Melinda intriguing to watch. Archambault’s Billy is, as described, a “catch.” Wilson is still struggling with some of Jonathan’s lines, but he radiates both damage and strength. The versatile Ostrenko portrays both the aggressive, dangerous Dr. Bishop and beach house neighbor Lucy, a gal who has her eye on Jonathan (though her story is a bit too conveniently parallel to Rebecca’s). Taylor is convincing and appealing as the frustrated odd woman out among longtime pals. Perez, however, is hard to buy as a cancer patient, Billy’s spouse or Melinda’s best pal (some of the fault lies in the character as she’s constructed, some in Perez’s less-than-convincing acting).
That New Theatre is celebrating its 30th with mostly new plays (plus the classic Death of a Salesman) is in keeping with the company’s history, which includes plenty of impressive work, most notably the world premiere of Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna in the Tropics. Two Weekends and a Day isn’t at that best-of level, but it will certainly resonate with audience members of a certain age.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Susan J. Westfall’s Two Weekends and a Day at New Theatre is a classic example of a world premiere that has admirable virtues worth exploring further, but a serious need for more re-tooling...  Westfall creates scores of moments that resonate deeply with audience members whose decades-long alliances get them through emotional crises and the encroaching specter of mortality. On the other, the work is far too long, exposition is dropped off by the truckload and some plot developments would only be credible in a daytime soap opera.
Faced with such challenges, director Ricky J. Martinez and the diligent cast of New Theatre regulars work hard, prevailing some of the time, but not always.
The two times alternate back and forth as secrets are revealed, betrayals occur and people who love each other tell each other a lot of hard truths. A lot of blood flows over the dam and while the final scene is, indeed, the point of Westfall’s entire play, it doesn’t quite land as believably as it might.
The exposition situation is especially problematic. This play is about the importance of shared experiences that most of the characters lived together, but which the audience doesn’t know. So the playwright has to get that information across somehow. But while the information is feathered in occasionally in a line of dialogue or depicted in flashbacks already described in a previous scene, it’s mostly dumped off in relating stories.
Kathryn Ryan wrote for Edge Miami:
Every once in a while a play comes along that so resonates with the audience, is so in sync with their experience and values that it surprises in a delightful way. Such is the case with Susan Westfall's world premiere of "Two Weekends and a Day" directed by Ricky Martinez and produced by New Theatre.
Director Martinez knows how to elicit laughter, exude sexuality, and evoke pity in all of his characters. The love scene between Melinda and Billy is touching and funny as well as sexy. As they go at it, he complains about his knees as she talks about how remiss she has been in going to the gym. Westfall clearly understands how passion changes over time.
In the role of Mrs. Tinoco, Melinda and Jonathan's neighbor, Kim Ostrenko, is particularly poignant in her disappointment when she discovers Melinda has returned to Jonathan. In her duel role as Doctor Bishop, she is also fervent in her belief that holistic medicine can save Gina from cancer.
For her part Sloan lights up the stage with her smiles and her tears. Her sadness when she discovers that Gina knew of her adultery with Billy is especially moving. Perez infuses Gina with both pragmatism and hope... Taylor is impressive in the scene in which she questions Jonathan's professed love for her; she is simultaneously hurt and indignant.
For his part, Wilson plays a man who believes that ignorance can be bliss and would rather avoid confrontation at any cost in the hopes that by ignoring a situation it will eventually resolve itself. His performance is very touching when as Jonathan he asks Melinda if she ever truly loved him at any time during their thirty-five years together.
Archambault's Billy is affable if practical. In his portrayal of Billy the audience can see his guilt and pain but also his love, patience and desire to keep on living. He tells Melinda, "I'm right here, but I have to move on." Through Billy, Westfall is able to articulate the theme of the necessity of dealing with loss.
Is the play perfect? Of course it's not. It could use some cutting here and there, especially in the opening scene, as well as some fleshing out of the relationships, like the one between two female best friends, but it nevertheless weaves a compelling narrative about the roller coaster relationship of couples with a long history which is not often examined on stage today.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
“It's personal...Some of it is true”
Local playwright Susan J. Westfall includes the above comments in her Playwright's Notes in the program for her world premiere piece now on stage at the New Theatre. Such an invitation to speculate in this story of middle-aged couples and their failing marriages. But gossip aside, there's the mixed truth of long-term relationships on display here.
There's a lot going on in this piece: death from cancer, death from falling off a ladder, adultery, anti-semitism, railing at holistic medicine, long suffering husbands, wandering wives, and just about every emotional button available for pushing. And all this is talked about, over and over, with characters telling other characters things they already know. Exposition has Two Weekends and a Day in a death grip.
New Theatre does well with its commitment to new plays but this is not an inspired offering with its uncaught inconsistencies in the script and its dubious casting.
The New Theatre production of Two Weekends and a Day plays through December 13, 2015.

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