Sunday, September 27, 2009

the quality of Quality of Life

Theater: Arena Stage, Crysal City. 1800 Bell St. Arlington, VA.
Metro: Crystal City (Blue and Yellow Lines). Directions here.
Genre: Drama with funny bits
Dates: Through October 18
Rating: 5/5 Starving Artists

I’ll keep this short, as I should be getting ready for services now.

I’m having trouble with The Quality of Life. I can’t for the life of me decide whether it was the acting or the writing that made this play so excellent. I suppose it may well have been both. I know that you are saying that these two things are not opposites, and I agree with you, but there were moments where I was complete enthralled with the language, which bordered on poetry and felt that the actors only barely did it justice, and other moments where the actors took a line that could have seen simple or even cheesy and made it into something special. It was hard to tell what the real power of the play was. I kept thinking to myself, “if I had read this scrip, would I have known it could be this good? Is it that these actors could make a play about paint drying captivating, or are they just working with material that is so good, even monkeys couldn’t screw it up?" I guess we shall have to call it a draw, a fantastic combination of great actors and great material. Even though one may have failed the other on occasion, together, they created something powerful.

It was a crack team, that put together The Quality of Life. It is stunningly acted by Kevin O’Rourke, Johanna Day, Stephen Schnetzer, and Annette O’Toole (who gave me flashbacks to the days when I used to watch Smallville). I was struck by one moment, in particular, where Jannette (played by Johanna Day) says, “just let me hold you Neil” (Schnetzer). Now here’s a line that might well have bordered on the melo-dramatic, and yet in her hands, it came off as desperate and sincere. And then there was the script, by the award winning Jane Anderson. Her evocative language and witty banter gave the show life. There are a couple of riotously funny moments, mixed in with some deeply moving moments. And Director Lisa Petterson should also get a lot of credit for some really great production decisions. The stage was captivatingly set in the burned out wreckage of Neil and Jeannette’s home, an environment that provided a good arena for tempers to flare and passions to ignite.

The subject matter is not an easy one. It is the story of two couples who have suffered great loss. Jeannette and Neil’s house has burned to the ground as they deal with Neil’s terminal cancer. Their cousins, Bill and Dinah (O’Rourke and O’Toole) have recently lost their only daughter in a gruesome way. And yet, in all of this agony, we find moments of true humor and warmth. They are a family brought together, ripped apart, and ultimately sown together once again by their pain. Their loss brings a closeness and intimacy that is hard to find between couples, and harder still to find in a theater. Anderson uses her humor liberally, to teach us about the characters, and show us their strength. They use wit as a weapon, and a shield, and it is this comic writing (and excellent timing) that makes their moments of agony all that much more poignant.

Don’t come expecting an easy, light play. This is not Crowns. But do go, if you want to see something really wonderful.

That’s all I have time for right now. To the Jews who read this, may you have a meaningful Yom Kippur.

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