Win/Lose/Draw, by Ara Watson and Mary Gallagher. Directed by Melanie Rivers. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"We just had no . . . ."
Three one-act plays about women in very human conditions comprise the The Town Players of Pittsfield's current offering at the Whitney Center for the Arts. Four women in six roles provide insights into the things that draw us all into conflict, some in unusual ways. Directed by Melanie Rivers, staffed principally by women of the company the show is unusual in its humor and its directness and the second play, the most serious one of the group, entertains without laughter but instead provides pathos and a sympathetic viewpoint on an issue of great concern.
"Little Miss Fresno" is written by both authors and introduces us to mothers of two infant pageant contestants. Mae Rogers plays Ginger and Diedre Bollinger plays Doris. Ginger is an old hand at these events, her daughter having been in competition for several years. Doris is dealing with her first contest for her child. The mothers meet and chat during a judging break and the authors make it very clear, right away, that the differences between the two women are stark. Rogers is sublimely smug, playing to the hilt the self-confidence of a winner. Bollinger works the insecurities of her character to the breaking point and when she realizes that her child has potential the quixotic change is a delight to behold.
The same two women appear in the second play, "Final Placement" set in a child welfare office in a midwestern state. Mary Hanson, a social worker played by Bollinger is confronted by the mother of one of the children Hanson has placed in foster care, Luellen James played by Rogers. In the play by Watson, mother James is desperate to find her son but Hanson will not aid her in this search, partially due to court orders in the case and partly due to her personal knowledge of the child's treatment at the hands of his parents. The growing unease Rogers exhibits in this role is quite wonderful to watch and the near-threat level of her work is extraordinary. On the other hand, Bollinger's restraint and her obvious concealment techniques work perfectly to assure the outcome of the play, the knowledge we gain about motive and intent. It is unusual to hear an audience gasp these days, but Bollinger pulls that from her watchers and it is a perfect ending to the first half of the evening.
The longest single play is "Chocolate Cake" which comprises the second half of the show. Dana Grieb plays AnneMarie Fitzer, alone in a cheap hotel room in an isolated town in wintry Massachusetts. She is a compulsive eater lost in an unsatisfactory marriage attending a conference on empowerment. In this play by Gallagher, Annemarie's room is invaded by another woman who is attending the conference, Delia Baron, played here by Jackie DeGiorgis. Also a compulsive eater, she becomes a confidante for the younger woman, than a taunter, then a challenger. This comedy provides plenty of laughs and at the same time pulls out the stops en route to a near-tragic ending. Rivers and her cast take some risks here. Grieb is at her best in the dialogue; her movement scenes when she is alone are stagey, feeling unreal. Luckily these are brief for her work with DeGiorgis is excellent. The two women in this long visit to entrapment in situations that provoke and prolong both characters unhappiness are fascinating and their parallel stories make for questing theater that makes you sit up listen.
I enjoyed all three plays and the performances were uniformly fascinating. The new, higher stage at the Whitney made everything visible from the house. This is still community theater and the elements of production are definitely not the highest, but the entertainment factor is right up there with some of our local professional theaters. Not plays that you're likely to see anywhere else, the evening succeeds on its own merits.
poster by Monica Bliss
Win/Lose/Draw plays at the Whitney Center for the Arts, 42 Wendell Avenue, Pittsfield, MA through June 25. For tickets and information call 413-443-9279 or go on line at www.townplayers.org.