Monday, May 11, 2015

Margin Notes: The Perfect Wife

Gwenevere Sisco and John Lenartz as Kathy and Paul.
Photo by Patrick Taylor.
The Perfect Wife

Seen on: Sunday, 5/10/15.
My grade: B-. Weak script bolstered by good design and some good performances.

Plot and Background
After her estranged father Paul slipped into dementia, Kathy returned to be caretaker - and much more than she bargained for, as Paul recognizes her as his late ex-wife Natalie more frequently than he does as his daughter, all grown up. Though Kathy's sister Sarah attempts to intervene, Kathy's and Paul's codependency runs too strong a current for her to divert. Per the program, "The Perfect Wife​won the 2012 Stanley Drama Award from Wagner College, was a semi-finalist in the National Playwrights Conference, and chosen for the 2013 nuVoices Play Festival at The Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte. Karen L. Lewis (WGA & Dramatists Guild) has had productions and readings regionally and off Broadway and has won various awards."

Disclosure, and
What I Knew Beforehand
I have worked with the director, Audrey Alford, and the actor, Gwenevere Sisco, before, on a play I wrote, and consider them both friends. Gonna do my best to remain objective.


Play: I'm going to be honest, I wasn't really wild about the script. There was too much Exposition as Argument, where two characters argue by telling the other things they already know, for the benefit of the audience. And I think it ultimately hurt the actors' ability to build character, with nothing but angrily expositing to drive them. And the climax, I think, ought to have felt inevitable, unavoidable - instead, it just sort of ... happened, and it didn't feel earned. And then the play ended. For all that, I admired the portrayal of dementia in the character of Paul - the sudden unexplained swings of mood and memory felt honest - painful and heartbreaking and unfixable. I certainly felt for the impossible situation in which Kathy found herself, as well as the incommunicable gulf between her and her sister. Director Audrey Alford navigated the lines of tension between her characters well, orchestrating between moments of sweet calm and wild calamity.

Cast: Though the cast was a bit uneven - the men generally a bit weaker than the women - there was still strong work to be seen here, particularly from the lead, Gwenevere Sisco, who brought a balance of fragility and strength to her portrayal of Kathy. John Lenartz as Paul, though he struggled sometimes with his lines, had an infectious energy and charisma, such that you could understand why Kathy couldn't bear to leave him. His slips into tantrums and infantile dependency were done with some skill. Katie Braden brought a good energy to Sarah, though she was unfortunately saddled with the worst of the Exposition as Argument dialogue, and had really only one note to play. Marie Marshal's scattery Debbie was a welcome bit of comic relief.

Design: Brian Dudkiewicz's set design - a spindly fun-house-colored fest of taped house outlines on walls, a gridded floor, shag carpets, and brightly painted chairs and tables - evoked a sense of children playing house, a skeletal sense of make-believe, of things not quite real - an accurate clue in to the story embarking. The dark trunk at the center, packed with props, contributed as well to the sense of a set performance of roles, of toys being taken out of or returned to their place. Tom Kleinert's costumes were also helpful clues in - Kathy in an apron and cardigan, Sarah in pants- and skirt-suit - even if the costuming of Debbie felt a little too on the nose - a little too much through the sisters' lens of her. Anna Libbie's sound was generally well-placed and unobtrusive and at a higher level than I'm used to seeing for Off-Off shows, so extra props to her.


Running: Now playing at 4th Street Theatre (Ivy Theatre Company) - Opened: May 1, 2015. Closing: May 16, 2015
Category: straight play
Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: Karen L. Lewis
Director: Audrey Alford
Designers: Brian Dudkiewicz (Set), Tom Kleinert (Costumer), Jonathan Hartley (Lighting), Anna Libbie (Sound).
Cast: Gwenevere Sisco, John Lenartz, Katie Braden, Chase Hemphill, Marie Marshal.

Chase Hemphill and Gwenevere Sisco as Matt and Kathy.
Photo by Patrick Taylor.

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