Saturday, February 14, 2015

Cloverdale Playhouse: "Pastime"

Full disclosure: The reviewer is a member of the Board of Directors of the Cloverdale Playhouse.

Love within a family is, at best, complicated. What with living up to the challenges and expectations of parents, assorted sibling rivalries, assumptions about one another, and individualized illusions of the past -- each of which provides conflicts that elicit tears and/or laughter -- the one constant is that spoken or unspoken love; and its universality connects the audience with characters on stage in Pastime.

Pastime had been generating in Greg Thornton's mind for several years before he entered it in the Cloverdale Playhouse's second annual Page-to-Stage competition. The "blind reading" of his winning script (the committee did not see any of the submitting authors' names) resulted first in a staged reading at the Playhouse late last year, followed now by its debut production -- the first time the Playhouse has produced a new play.

Mike Winkelman's detailed set (the porch and backyard of the Hanson family home), and period specific and character driven costumes by Pamela Upshaw and Romaro Walker create a comfortably atmospheric family home in a suburban neighborhood near New York City.

Mr. Thornton is astutely directing his exhilarating play with an excellent ensemble of seven of the River Region's most accomplished actors: Sarah Adkins, Stephen Dubberly, Matthew Givens, John McWilliams, Scott Page, Mariah Reilly, and Teri Sweeney supply such truthful naturalistic portraits of the Hanson family, that audiences might feel they are eavesdropping on a family gathering in the 1980s, some ten years after the death of its patriarch who had pushed all of his children to be the best.

Whether they are playing a spirited backyard wiffle-ball re-creation of an historic Baseball Pennant game, or grilling chicken, or reminiscing about how their father trained his sons at home to be altar boys, or attempting some house repairs, or arguing about which person received preferential treatment in their childhood, or facing marital challenges, or evading the potential devastation of losing one of them who is shipping out to the Persian Gulf, the primary concern of this close-knit family is for their mother's well-being and for the disposition of the house where she had lived all her married life and where all the siblings grew up.

The ghost of their father and his sometimes suffocating influence on all of them is apparent in almost every scene of the play's two acts. And we come to know them and the family dynamic intimately as they gradually reveal their individual interpretations of incidents of the past that simultaneously shaped their perceptions that caused misunderstandings and drew them together out of a love that is often difficult to express.

This is familiar territory. Ordinary people engaged in commonplace situations that we can all identify with, are given uncommon honesty in this production of Pastime. The push-and-pull of their shared journey is sometimes outrageously funny and sometimes deadly serious, but always credible as Mr. Thornton's ear for dialogue, attention to suspenseful dramatic structure, and compassion for the humanity of the Hanson family are brought to life by his talented actors.

As in real life, the future for the Hansons is uncertain; for good or bad, change for each of them is on the way. And audiences at the Cloverdale Playhouse emerge liberated with a greater understanding of the bond of love of family and of themselves.