Saturday, February 13, 2010

Red Door: "Catfish Moon" (and a local restaurant)

Early in Act II of Catfish Moon, Laddy Sartin's gentle comedy now playing at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs, the title of the play is explained: a "catfish moon" foretold good fishing. As one character observes, "people knew how to read the signs", and keen observation of nature affords mankind the necessary information to survive...It also serves as a metaphor for the lives of the four characters in this excellent ensemble production.

Three boyhood friends, now middle-aged, meet at an old fishing pier where they shared many moments of their youth. Nostalgic reminiscences and various attempts to recapture the past make it clear from the start that their former innocence can not be revisited with any certainty. Life has changed them all, and they have not read the signs of ageing very clearly. Their personalities have not changed much over time, but their flaws and foibles, their awkward and stumbling attempts at reviving a youthful intimacy, now get in the way.

All this is done on a remarkable realistic set provided by the Troy University Theatre Program. The details of a decaying wooden pier and surrounding tree trunks and waterside greenery transform the Red Door Theatre and create an appropriate mood.

Curley [Randy Thornton] is the "big brother" of the threesome who brings his friends Gordon [Steve McCary] and Frog [Mark Moore] out to the pier with a scheme to buy the property and a boat and turn it into a refuge for them to escape the routine of business and re-live the past: "We used to enjoy life; now it's passing us by", he exclaims, but is warned that "sentiment and business don't mix".

Curley's sister Betty [Peggy Brown Thornton] is recently divorced from Frog, and now is dating Gordon, which threatens the friendships that Curley tries so hard to sustain.

Mr. McCary's portrayal of Gordon in his bashful attempts at intimacy and reliance on the Horoscope Hotline for romantic advice is depicted honestly in all its bumbling, and when he slips "off the wagon", his drunken behavior is both hugely comical and thoroughly credible. -- As Frog, Mr. Moore starts out as a one-note firebrand, but settles into the role honestly as his character realizes the truth of relationships. -- Mr. Thornton plays Curley's intense determination to recapture his life and his need to bring together and arbitrate arguements among everyone who has ever meant anything to him with a conviction that only late in the play is explained. -- Yet, it is only Ms. Brown Thornton's Betty who has read most of the signs clearly. Her every gesture and textured line readings are a model of comfort and consistency.

Under artistic director Fiona Macleod's astute direction, these ordinary people and the plainness of their dialogue become so comfortable for the audience that it is easy to engage with them. The restraint of the cast in depicting their characters so naturalistically is admirable. And while no epic action occurs [only occasional shouting and virtually nothing is fast-paced], the production's leisurely deliberateness establishes that these characters have grown accustomed to one another and accept who they are without question. And so do we.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dining in Union Springs
Whether you live nearby or travel a distance, the "Union Pizza Company" across the street from the theatre serves exceptional Italian food at reasonable prices, and has a "Pre-Theatre" menu featuring main courses as well as pizza & sandwiches. Portions are more than generous, and the atmosphere is rustic trattoria -- but it is the quality of the food that counts. Fresh ingredients and authentic recipes by chef-owner Gary Weiss make this a destination restaurant that surpasses anything within 150 miles.