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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Arrested Life

Theater Reviews

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What do you do when you lose your one true love?

With five well-defined female characters (plus two goofy men), a soundtrack of cuddly Beatles tunes, and the plot of a Lifetime channel movie, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, performed last weekend by Soulstice Theatre, has all the elements of a perfect chick play.

David, a former college teacher, has been living in an island cottage purchased with the settlement from his wife’s tragic demise two years ago. He’s in a state of arrested life, spending his days running on the beach and his nights conversing with the stars—and the tangible ghost of Gillian, said former wife—and his sixteen-year-old daughter Rachel is forced to take up the slack. When Dave’s family conspires to bring an attractive friend who’s “in the man-market,” inconveniently forgetting that it’s the day of the play’s title, tempers fray, harsh words are exchanged; followed, as day follows night, by earnest talks on the beach, changes of heart, and reconciliations. Wisdom is found where it always is—right where we forgot to look.

The script is flawed by overly glib banter (“Your favorite state is denial”). The workmanlike set sorely needs some humanizing touches. Not all of the actors command the subtlety needed to delineate their characters’ rapid emotional changes; we understand, rather than see, that the characters are masking their grief and fear behind wisecracks and trivia. Eventually, however, the players generate warmth and light: Jillian Smith as Gillian’s sister does an admirable job cutting through David’s crap; Amber Page is warm and genuine as the good woman who we know can entice him out of his cocoon and back into messy real life.

It’s no coincidence that Soulstice Theatre is presently mourning the untimely loss of a beloved founding member, Keith Tamsett; this play was their purifying rite, to bring themselves—and us—to the moment of accepting that the nearer our destination, the more we’re slip-slidin’ away.

Runs through May 24 at the MarionCenter, 3195 S. Superior St.