Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Midsummer (a play with songs)
Also see Fred's review of The Merchant of Venice
The protagonists sing, play guitar (beginning with "Love Will Break Your Heat" at the outset), and deliver crisp, witty dialogue. They meet in a wine cellar in Edinburgh. She is a lawyer specializing in divorce and he is small-time crook but not at all the stereotypical bad guy. He wishes he were a rock performer and she is involved with someone else. One might get the impression that if these two have a quick fling, that experience will fall into the one-and-done category.
Tracy Brigden's deft direction highlights an early vignette in which each talks to him or herself in an effort to sexually "achieve." Each 35 year old wants it and one another but nerves and fear of inadequacy dominate as the pair face the nearby audience. Each, seasoned enough to be self-aware, wonders about ever having happiness. The ironic unknown, of course, is that they, together, would complement in terrific fashion.
Divorced and father of a son he seldom sees, Bob tends to swipe cars while Helena frets that she might be pregnant. Greig has written these appealing characters so that they speak in third person when either addressing or explaining their impulses and actions. Examples: Bob is in cahoots with a local man involved in petty crime; Helena is making her way to her sister's wedding.
Brigden coaxes a brisk pace and her physically pliable actors move along but not too hurriedly as they perform, question themselves, and draw toward one another. The actors are involved in "rerun" scenes as the script allows them the chance to try different outcomes. Bob, during the opening and later, is reading Dostoyevsky, seated stage right. Helena becomes obsessed with herself even as she questions who that is. There is also the matter of her nephew.
The performance, through spoken word and occasional song, portrays both inner and outer selves. We see these people who muse about possibility: Will their lives ever change? Bob and Helena consult with inner voices. Greig and McIntyre encourage alter ego connection. The piece, one of motion, evolves non-stop, without intermission. The creators could have concluded the show, with success, at earlier points. That it is extended also seems fitting.
TheaterWorks gets the initial applause for positioning Midsummer during the midst of summer. More important, Hart and McLean (who nail accents with accuracy) are pinpoint casting choices. She is just sexy enough, warm and attractiveyet shows misgivings about herself and her promise. The angular McLean effectively personifies a man who is in minor trouble but is better than that and hoping for a sunnier day. Midsummer transpires inside while a dreary rain is heard outside. Each of the actors is able to modify if not change a look or disposition instantly and the text requires that kind of versatility. They combine voices easily and accentuate McIntyre's catchy music.
A repeated line of Helena's is "How would you like to come back to my place and have extremely wild, uninhibited sex with me?" She asks herself if she really just did or did not say that. It's a device, for sure, and Midsummer cleverly spins it.
You could say that the play is about early midlife crisis or that Helena and Bob are coming of age at a later moment than many. Greig and McIntyre do not make the mistake of providing clarity. The collaborators provide the elements for a delicious romp of a production. This whimsical evening of theater is, therefore, a pleasure.
Midsummer (a play with songs) continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut, through August 21st, 2016. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit theaterworkshartford.org.