By Diana Saenger
'This" could be the story of many experiencing relationship problems or trying to move on after a tragedy. Melissa James Gibson's acclaimed play begins with friends Marrell (Judith Scott), Alan (Andrew Abelson), Tom (Richard Baird) and Jean Pierre (Matt Thompson) trying to entice Jane (Courtney Corey) into playing a game. After many objections, she relents and the result is one none of them expected.
As the curtain rises … Marrell and Tom are trying to handle life with a new baby while still entertaining friends. Jane is trying to get over the loss of her husband and not ready for Marrell's efforts to set her up with Jean Pierre. When Tom goes to Jane's house to apologize for making her upset about the game, neither expects where that apology leads.
Middle-agers are definitely the target here. Gibson's play sprouts like a plant with fast-growing seeds. There are moments of brilliance in her crisp and honest dialogue, but also plenty of time for each character to wallow in his/her own unfulfilled life. A touch of humor is sprinkled in here and there to keep things bearable.
Although the characters are self-centered and hard to emphasize with, the clever dialogue and how proficient each cast member is in making it his/her own, counter balances that flaw. Part of that accolade goes to director Kirsten Brandt who knew exactly what she wanted out of her cast.
Scott ("Doubt," "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner") has no problem letting the audience know she's bored with a husband who no longer wants intimacy, and yet is focused on making life normal for her new baby. Baird (NCRT's "The Lion in Winter," San Diego based Shakespeare troupe "Measure for Measure") does a great job as a man so focused on what he wants that he can't see his own deficiencies at home.
Jane is all over the place with her highs and lows, and Corey (NCRT's "Lend Me A Tenor," "Over the Tavern") is superb in handling the inconsistencies. Jean Pierre is the outsider who has easy answers for all his new friends, and Thompson (TV's "CSI," NCRT's "Don't Dress For Dinner") edges into his off-the-cuff attitude with ease.
Abelson (TV's "The Shield," Old Globe's "A Midsummer Night's Dream") is the one who steals the show as Alan. His problems – compared to his friends’ – are minimal, yet he delivers each line as if his tomorrow depends on it to bring an interesting dynamic to the plot.
If you go
When: Matinees, evenings to April 29
Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
Box Office: (858) 481-1055