Saturday, September 11, 2010

*Together Again*: photos and review

review-of Together Again for the Next Time (long first draft)
(at Interplayers through Sept. 30)

One of the chief pleasures of Reed McColm’s Together Again for the Next Time — a comedy about two blended, bickering families preparing for a wedding — is in how natural-sounding the conversations seem.
A cast of 11 fans out all over Scott Nicks’ dining-and-living-room set (which needs to look upscale and does), so that the downstage argument about credit card payments zigs to the dinner-table squabbling over wedding decorations, then zags over to the exchange of cynical barbs among the in-laws and old folks. Some of these people don’t much care for each other at all, and it’s amusing to watch.
Mom and her stepdaughter, the bride, want everything to be just perfect; Dad’s wondering how much this is all gonna cost; Grandpa and the ex-wife are wondering about how much longer till they can get outta here.
Resentments and insecurities, both petty and substantial, pop up here and there. In other words, it’s your typical happy family gathering that’s destined, any moment now, to splinter into a family train wreck.

This sequel to Together Again for the First Time (which Interplayers produced in 2008) adds characters to the original lineup. Max (McColm, who wrote, directed and stars) still has three adult daughters, and his second wife, Audrey (Tamara Schupman), still has two grown sons from a previous marriage. The middle daughter (Christine Cresswell) is getting married to a bald vegetarian who can’t seem to finish his dissertation (Damon Abdallah); his eccentric mother (Wendy Carroll) blows into town to add blunt commentary. Completing this portrait of dysfuncts are Max’s ex-wife and ex-father-in-law (Mary Starkey and Barrie McConnell), sourpusses both.

Lead roles are hard to discern here, but it is, after all, Chinelle and Carey’s wedding (with the lovebirds played by Christine Cresswell and Damon Abdallah), and the focal, befuddled, middle-aged couple who are the parents of all these misguided grown-up kids played by McColm and Schupman.
All four are fine, but three actors in supporting roles are standouts. Andrew Scott Parish, an actor from SFCC, steps into the role of Roger, the elder of Audrey’s two sons and the one who gets to range from cracking wise to shouting angry accusations. Parish is up to the role’s range, and in a playful but not showy way. Roger gets all the rebellious snark-lines in the early going, but Parish is convincing later on when Roger has to stand up for himself (and the people he loves).
Wendy Carroll plays the mother of the groom with a sly Eastern European accent, one gaudy purse (or another) hooked over her arm, a soft pat to your cheek, and then a zinger aimed right between your eyes. She’s had four husbands. So what if those marriages didn’t turn out so well? She’s not about to let social niceties obstruct her prowling for Partner No. 5. In her too-brief scenes, Carroll commands the stage with her Lina’s carefully observed eccentricities.
As Max’s depressing ex-wife and mother of the three sisters, Mary Starkey clenches her lips and makes her eyes grow cold. She’s frustrated and angry and well prepared to revel in others’ failings. In their faceoff late in Act One, you could see how McColm’s Max dithered and hoped for the best while Starkey’s Maddie, his angry ex, cut right to the core of why their lives have turned out to be such disappointments.

Because this isn’t just a light romantic comedy. It has plenty of crowd-pleasing jokes of the local variety: Gonzaga jokes, anti-P.C. jokes, Spokane airport jokes. Even Interplayers board members get poked at.
An ecological wedding theme leads to green bridesmaids’s dresses — and to one of the women complaining that her gown makes her look like Gumby.

McColm avoids charges of fluffiness by studding the action with some high-stakes conflicts, mostly over money.
But sometimes, marital pasts and career plans are taken up, debated angrily, then dropped, as if just to ratchet up the tension, Lifetime-style.
McColm’s script throws career plans, career disasters and medical problems into the mix, rounding out some characters while sometimes leaving conflicts undeveloped.

Despite swirling direction that nicely matched all those swirling conversations, there were some acting lapses.
Opening night brought some bobbles and pauses, missed lines and flattened jokes, especially in the opening minutes, though that problem may disappear with repeated performances..
Several punch lines weren’t punched but placed quietly into the dialogue like throwaways. Laugh lines were oddly underemphasized.
The actors playing Hank and Jason and yes, even Max, need more work on achieving enough volume and and comic emphasis, especially in the timing of witty retorts.

One of the daughters’ parts feels underwritten (she’s leaving for college but still loves Dad), as if writer McColm were eyeing yet another sequel. (The finale leaves several threads untied, but they stand for the inconclusiveness of human lives, not just as openings for the next installment of the Wolders-Frobisher saga.)

But McColm demonstrates several solid comedic techniques. First, there are jokes at the expense of characters whom we never see (but who make the fictional world seem more real). Then there are allusions, minutes later, to previous punch lines, allowing audience members to recall matters on their own, congratulate themselves on their own attentiveness, and then splutter out the surprised laughter of people who are laughing even harder at a punch line because they just figured it out for themselves.
He knows when to tell his script just to shut up. Images alone tell the story of the sad, funny bride, comically, pathetically isolated — along with a non-verbal, six-way scene that meditates on the profound, unsurpassable pleasure to be obtained from savoring sweet, sticky cupcakes.
McColm knows how to undercut sentiment with humor, to the two moods’ mutual benefit: The teary-eyed stuff doesn’t drag out too long, manipulatively; and the comedy seems all the more comic for being plopped into the middle of a warm, fuzzy moment.

Because Next Time is, like the most comforting comedies, laugh-out-loud funny at times and heart-in-throat touching at others.
There’s just something about seeing characters you’ve gotten to know over two plays (and four hours) that has us pulling for them, wanting to see them succeed with all their little schemes and big wedding plans.

It all seems very typical, very basic. You and I know families like this — with these secrets and resentments, but also with their rituals and little glimpses of affection. Somehow we muddle through. The Together Again plays offer the comfort of offering reflections of our imperfect selves, played for laughs and for sentiment. It’s a pleasing mix.

Reed McColm’s Together Again for the Next Time will be performed at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St., through Sept. 30. Visit or call 455-PLAY.

Photos by Young Kwak:
upper right: Reed McColm as Max Frobisher and Mary Starkey as Madeline Arnhand in Together Again for the Next Time at Interplayers, Sept. 2010 (with several of their family members in the background)
top: the wedding party: Micah Hanson as Kaye Frobisher, Christine Cresswell as Chinelle Frobisher, Bethany D. Hart as Sandra Frobisher (in the middle), Damon Abdallah as Carey Krzyznyk, and Andrew Scott Parish as Roger Wolders
top left: reverse angle on wedding party, with James Pendleton as Jason Wolders in the left background, and, in the right rear, Barrie McConnell as Grandpa Hank, Wendy Carroll as Lina Kllwydd-Brycik (Carey's mother), and Mary Starkey as Madeine Arnhand
bottom: from left, seated in foreground -- Barrie McConnell, Wendy Carroll, Mary Starkey, and then Reed McColm and Tamara Schupman, as Audrey Wolders-Frobisher, seated on the right; wedding party (as above) in background

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At September 25, 2010 9:25 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this show this week and found it kind of blah. Some good actng, but overall it was a sitcom and not a play. And Reed McColm didn't seem to know his lines. Odd for the writer and director.


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