Friday, September 20, 2013

Stay by Sheila Cowley, Wimberley Players, September 13 - October 6, 2013

ALT review 2013
Stay Sheila Cowley Wimberley Players TX

by Michael Meigs

The Wimberley Players give Sheila Cowley's Stay a quality production with a strong cast and superb production values. This piece by the Florida playwright had its premiere with the Players Theatre in Sarasota, and its transfer between local theatres ready to try out new work is an encouraging sign that not all such venues are in lockstep with the likes of Arsenic and Old Lace, Neil Simon and the Texas gothic comedies of Jones, Hope & Wooten.

Deanna Lalich is Leanne Abrams, a quietly moody physician separated from Mark, her journalist husband of twenty years, played by Aaron Johnson. He's one of those lost sheep that keeps returning; although he has a new girlfriend, he inevitably gravitates back to the apartment to pick up clothes, books and the mothering of his perhaps-soon-to-be-ex-wife. Early in the opening act Mark deposits a legal document requiring Leanne's signature, presumably necessary for some sort of no-fault divorce.

Flashbacks designated by special lighting effects take us back to the couple's earliest years, when Mark had just gotten his big job and Leanne was on her way to med school. Playwright Cowley explores repeatedly the dynamic between them, with Mark's excited, distracted talk about The Places He'll Go and Leanne's ever-patient tracking and correcting of his schedules. We hear this trope again and again, with Leanne always resorting to a wistful, unsubstantiated, "It'll be all right. . . ."

These two appealing actors work that territory as far as it can be worked, but their relationship never becomes more vivid or understandable. Cowley is asking us just to assume the best and believe that they're real people. Though Leanne turns out to be an opthalmologic surgeon, a wizard in transplanting corneas, we never hear her talk about medicine other than to lament that a girl patient of hers is still waiting for transplants. Cowley has Mark the journalist bubble about the exotic destinations that his media organization is sending him to, and evidently has been sending him to for the past twenty years, but other than that the character doesn't have a thought in his head. The two don't give us any real insight into their de facto decision not to have children, and we hear almost nothing about their history or relationship, other than his bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm like a five-year-old and her solid acceptance of him like an eternally indulgent mommy.

Stay Sheila Cowley Wimberley Players TX
Aaron Johnson, Deanna Lalich (photo: Wimberley Players)

The title Stay voices Leanne's yearning for her husband, and the promotional photo of the blindfolded Mark and the contemplative Leanne suggests the central ploy of this plot. Applying her medicines, Leanne deceives Mark into thinking that he has been in a car accident and has only just roused from lengthy unconsciousness to find himself with eyes blindfolded, utterly dependent upon the wife he would sort of like to stay with if only he wasn't fascinated by his much younger female editor and feeling obliged to stay with that woman, who's pregnant by him.

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