Friday, December 12, 2014

Go See "Distant Neighbors" by Fresh Ink Theatre - It Is Out of This World!

If your plans for this weekend are not yet solidified, make your way to Boston Playwrights' Theatre on Commonwealth Avenue for the Fresh Ink Theatre production of "Distant Neighbors."  The play, written by Patrick Gabridge and Directed by Liz Fenstermaker is brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed.  The play is a "space-age love story about loneliness and longing."  It is about breaking down the barriers that keep us isolated from one another.  Mr. Gabridge has taken a very Chekhovian theme of individuals missing connections with one another and layered onto it a Robert Frost sensibility that there is something out there in the cosmos that "does not love a wall."

The scene is the back yard of a neighborhood in which the back doors of four households abut one another in a quadrangle, so the four yards connect.  The neighbors live no more than 20 feet from one another.  And yet they are virtual strangers - distant neighbors, if you will.  Carefully constructed fencing keeps them in isolation from one another - until . . . .  There is a blackout and the sound of.what may be a plane crashing.  The lights come up to show that an objective - presumably from outer space, has landed in the common back yard and has destroyed the fence that keeps the individuals separate from each other.  We will soon learn that it is not just a physical barrier that has been breached, but a metaphorical and relational one, as well.  Has the object truly come from outer space, and if so, which "distant neighbors" may have sent it?

Adams (Sheldon Brown) and Talia (Louise Hamill) leave their homes to investigate, and are joined by a third neighbor, Griffin (Daniel Boudreau) .  After arguing about how to handle this mysterious event and talismanic object,  Talia contacts NASA and a field investigator arrives in the person of Melanie (Gillian Mackay-Smith).  The plot is cleverly developed and I hesitate to say much more for fear of spoiling some nice surprises and plot twists. The object proves too tempting to be left alone.  The four individuals each discover that the mysterious monolith, when touched, has the power to allow each person who touches it to see and understand one another in ways that are mystical, ineffable and deeply moving.  Each of the four is forever changed internally, and altered in terms of their relationship with each other and those beyond the tight circle of four. There are two other players in this drama who play significant roles.  There is Blake (Michael Knowlton), Talia's estranged husband who shows up to complicate her life.  And there is Griffin's wife, whom we never see, but who is clearly alienated from Blake and from the world.

Sheldon Brown (Adams) & Louise Hamill (Talia)
"Distant Neighbors" by Patrick Gabridge
Fresh Ink Theatre
Through December 13.
Photo by E. Milanovich Photography

There is fine acting on display throughout this production.  The chemistry between Mr. Brown's Adams and Ms. Hamill's Talia is sizzling.  The finesse with which they each portray the arc of their character and of their relationship is a highlight of this play.  Ms. Mackay-Smith is stellar as the NASA geek who is lonely and repressed.  I recently saw this actor in a very different role in "The Real Thing," and she is so versatile that it took me until Act II to realize that this was the same actor portraying a very different kind of troubled woman.  In a limited part, Mr. Knowlton firmly and effectively establishes the character of Blake, who is the "odd man out" in every sense of that phrase.  Mr. Boudreau has a very touching moment near the end of the play in which he reluctantly accepts a selfless gift from Adams and Talia that may help bring healing to his marriage.

The actors are helped enormously by the creative team.  Mr. Gabridge writes very lively and believable dialogue.  The Set and Props by Marc Ewart are outstanding, as is the Lighting Design of Christopher Bocchiaro, Sound Design of Lindsey Anderson and Costumes by Bridgette Hayes. 

This production is nearly flawless.  I do have two minor quibbles that I will point out in the interest of balance.  There is a scene in which the broken fence must be repaired.  The actors mime the rebuilding of the fence by pounding with a hammer, but using no nails, and then measuring lengths of wood that have already been cut.  The action is not believable and is an unnecessary distraction  to an otherwise thoroughly captivating play. My other bit of constructive criticism relates to Mr. Boudreau and his physical presence.  He has a limited physical vocabulary and reverts to one of three body and hand positions to attempt to portray a wide range of emotions.  He often leans forward with his hands splayed at his side with palms facing outward, in an almost beseeching posture.  He would do well to ask for some coaching along these lines, for there is clear talent there that needs a bit of polishing.

These minor quibbles aside, this is a very successful and satisfying play, and a great evening of theater.  This is the final weekend for this production, so I strongly urge you to see this captivating play.  The folks at Fresh Ink Theatre are reaching out to you and asking: "Won't you be my neighbor?"

Fresh Ink Theatre Website



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