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THEATER REVIEW: North Coast Rep’s “This” crammed full of complaining characters

What do you do when you’re pushing 40 and realize the bright promises of youth and college aren’t being fulfilled?

If you’re four of the five characters in Melissa James Gibson’s “This,” you sit around and kvetch. And drink, and play silly games. Maybe even do something stupid like philander.

“This” plays through April 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Kirsten Brandt directs.

Here are the players: Jane (Courtney Corey), poet, occasional teacher, not yet recovered widow of one year and mother of unseen 9-year-old daughter Maude; Jane’s old college friends Marrell (Judith Scott), jazz singer, married to cabinetmaker Tom (Richard Baird), a gardener when they were in college; Alan (Andrew Ableson), stereotypical gay with smart mouth and dramatically wounded pride; and Jean-Pierre (Matt Thompson), “doctor without borders,” soon to head off for foreign climes, imported this evening for Jane’s benefit.

Marrell and Tom are no longer happily married. They hardly ever have sex, their newborn (who sleeps in 15-minute increments) has left them seriously sleep-deprived and easily annoyed, and they argue not just about who who fills the Brita bottle, but about how to pronounce the name.

Alan is a mnemonist – he remembers things, sometimes too exactly for others’ comfort. He makes a living wowing the public on TV talk shows, but like the others, feels something is missing. It’s Alan who asks the key question of the night: “What if you wake up and discover you’re living a dinky life?”

Well, there are three options: realize this is the life you have chosen and learn to accept it; change it, or sit around complaining and risk annoying the people around you.

The reason “This” is an unsatisfying play is that these characters never go beyond the realization of “dinkiness.” Like Chekhov’s characters, they sit around and complain. It’s no accident that Gibson lists Chekhov as a major influence.

So when these poor little rich kids whine about dinky lives, unhappy marriages and wanting to have sex with gay men (yes, Jane actually says that), it’s difficult not to want to shout, “So do something about it already, and stop wasting my time.”

Brandt has a fine quintet of actors. Corey is fine as the contradictory Jane – competent but uncertain, lost and grounded, apologizing and annoyed by all the well-meaning people who respond to her loss in the only way one can, an empty-sounding “I’m sorry.”

Scott’s Marrell paints a familiar portrait of a woman trying to have it all: motherhood, professional life and husband. She is also a fine singer, here interpreting original songs by Peter Eldridge.

Baird’s Tom gives nuance and some grace to the fish-out-of-water blue-collar man in this pool of college graduates.

Ableson projects a warmth and humor that make Alan an irresistible character despite being shortchanged by the script.

Thompson’s handsome Frenchman is properly suave and nicely projects the make-a-difference physician’s self-confidence.

Production values are high, with another clever Marty Burnett set and fine lighting by Matt Novotny. Alina Bokovikova’s costumes and Paul Peterson’s sound design also add to the production.

I can identify with Alan when he says, “I spend the better part of my life waiting for a wakeup call. You know, the thing that will make everything come into focus and that I can point to later when I’m writing my memoir.”

But I wish at least one of these characters had received that call in the course of the evening.

The details

“This” plays through April 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.

Wednesday and Sunday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (858) 481-1055 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.