THE BASICS: BEGINNING AGAIN, a world premiere of a play by David Alan Brown, directed by Neal Radice, starring David Hayes, Smirna Mercedes-Perez, Adam Hayes, and Tom Owen, runs through March 10, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (852-2600). www.alleyway.com Runtime: 90 minutes without intermission (but with two 3-minute breaks between acts for scenery changes). (Theater entrance is not on Main, but on “Curtain Up Alley” which is the pedestrian walkway connecting Pearl and Main Streets running between the south wall of the former bus station and Shea’s Theater.)
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Roland, a middle aged intellectual, having lost his wife to an accident two months ago, does not like the words “grieving” or “mourning,” but that’s what he is doing as he applies critical thinking and logic to challenge and strip away myths and conventions until he is left with one immutable truth, which is revealed at the end.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: We read in the playbill: “Founded in 1980, Alleyway Theatre is one of only a handful of companies nationwide dedicated to the development and production of new plays and musicals.” While most theatrical companies go with time-tested audience favorites, kudos to Neil Radice and the Alleyway for going out on limb after limb. Still, in literature as in life, you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. If you’ve met some of those amphibians at the Alleyway in the past, well, shine your shoes and put on something nice, because you’re about to meet a prince among new plays.
Neil Radice has done a first-rate job of directing his cast of four (two doubling in minor parts). The physical movements are, for the most part, quite natural and, if from time to time a bit “theatrical,” well, that’s a welcome respite from the philosophical script.
David Hayes, in my experience, is consistently cast as highly educated, intelligent, doubting, probing, questioning characters – a mathematician in PROOF, a food critic/writer in DINNER WITH FRIENDS, a political operative in FARRAGUT NORTH, and now another critic/writer in BEGINNING AGAIN. He may be “type-cast” but he gets some juicy roles. And he does well in them all, BEGINNING AGAIN, included.
Tom Owen has a brief appearance as a train conductor in Act I, but as the aged philosopher-fisherman was almost a scene stealer in Act II, and it was quite satisfying to see two old pros (David Hayes and Tom Owen) go head to head.
Smirna Mercedes-Perez also “gives as good as she gets” in Act I as her character, Anita, and the grieving Roland trade barbs.
And Adam Hayes (no relation to David) really impressed me with his portrayal of Roland’s adult son (and that character’s apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). Adam Hayes’ last four stage appearances in memory had him as lightweight / not all-that-serious characters in IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU for O’Connell and Company as well as STRAIGHT, CLEOPATRA, and IT’S ONLY A PLAY for BUA. He reminded me here a lot of Alan Cumming (PBS “Mystery” Host; Eli Gold on “The Good Wife”).
A comment on the minimalist sets: Often at the Alleyway we’re painfully aware that cost was a consideration in set design. Euphemisms such as “minimal,” or “spare” stand in for “low-budget” or “cheap,” but here a simple train seat, a log by a stream, and two art museum benches were all that were needed. They worked in part because of the detailed projected backgrounds – railroad car interior, woodland scene, and art gallery for Acts I, II, and III. Nice touch.
In conclusion, my takeaway was that every theatrical aspect was on the same level, and consistent, and all with a firm vision. I liked it.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!