- In Round House Theatre's 'Charming Billy,' family members reflect on the life of an alcoholic. (Photo: Danisha Crosby)
The week in theater, reviewed.
Says an old proverb: A man takes a drink; the drink takes a drink; the drink takes the man. So it goes for the title character of Round House Theatre's Charming Billy, a lovable Irish lout who succumbed to alcoholism. The play takes place at his funeral, where his family is telling stories about his life, and wondering what he could have done with it. Billy (David Whalen) comes to us in flashbacks of his first love, Eva (Molly Cahill Govern), whose loss marks him for life. There's also the Long Island beach house he fixes up with his cousin and best friend, Dennis (John Feltch) and his job in a shoe store, which leads to him meeting his wife, Maeve (Julie-Ann Elliott). She suffered while Billy was alive, and suffers no less now that he is gone. Adaptor and director Blake Robison captures from Alice McDermott's novel the bittersweet atmosphere of an Irish-American wake, in which drinks are raised while the deceased is remembered with eulogies like, "Billy always said that AA was a Protestant thing." Skeletons will emerge from closets, but they, too, will be buried six feet under.
After the jump: The Naomi Wallace Festival and 24, 7, 365 at Atlas Performing Arts Center
The Naomi Wallace Festival, various locations
Wallace is the playwright of One Flea Spare, the black humor black plague play that TBD has been following from start to finish as Forum produces it. In her honor, Forum will be holding pay-what-you-can readings of Wallace's work all month at various locations. Tonight is depression-era play The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek at the Silver Spring Civic building, and next week's Fever Chart, her analysis of Middle Eastern politics, will be presented in an intimate private setting announced to those who RSVP. Wallace began her career as a poet, so local writers, actors and dancers will create lyrical responses to Wallace's "To Dance a Stony Field" at Round House on Feb. 28.
There are Blackberry-obsessed workaholics, and there are those who abscond from a family camping trip in the middle of the night to drive two hours to check their email. 27, 7, 365's Johnnie (Deidra LaWan Starnes) is one such person. Married to the ever-patient Jan (Michael Kramer), Johnnie opens the show with a brilliant, rapid-fire monologue about her struggle to disconnect from the office, which causes her to stress-eat peanut butter cups and constantly contemplate divorce. Playwright Jennifer L. Nelson brings Johnnie, her husband, brother-in-law Beau, and Beau's girlfriend into the woods, to explore true happiness, and its absence in our hyper-connected lives.
Nelson is at her best when she makes us laugh. The serious, philosophical discussions of satisfaction land with a thud. Conflict is too-quickly dismissed with platitudes like, "Trees got roots. Maybe grown men got roots, too," and when the couples come together in the end you're not convinced that the weekend getaway will leave them as happy as they say they become. But Nelson's writing is sassy and sharp, and the cast is comedically gifted, particularly Quander, whose spoiled diva prattles on like a Real Housewife.
But it's the second act — after Johnnie sneaks away from the campsite — where Nelson's tightly-written comedy begins to unwind. Johnnie encounters Kwame (Baye Harrell), a client's husband, and the villain in her narrative about work. Kwame's not what he seems, but Nelson writes him as so infallible that he should be named Parent of the Year, despite his admission of abuse. His and other characters' actions are inconsistent — for example, Kwame talks about feeding his child Kraft singles, then later announces that he doesn't allow refined sugar. Likewise, Jan and Johnnie are hot and cold, but their squabbling is less interesting than the ever-battling Sammie and Ronnie of Jersey Shore. Though Nelson intended to write a play about the search for happiness, it's pettiness, anger and selfishness that make up the best of 24, 7, 365.
24, 7, 365 also runs at the Hylton Performing Arts Center Mar. 3-5.