It’s a bitch, that day when you suddenly realize your climb to the top is over and it’s all downhill from here (at least temporally), whether or not you’ve reached that pinnacle you envisioned all those years ago.
Ned, Joy and Dale are at that stage. All are 40 and live “within six feet of each other” in mirror-image digs in London suburbia. Ned (Mike Sears) is a chunky demolitions expert whose job keeps him traveling to see all the places he will soon reduce to rubble.
Ned loves his job, but loves his wife Joy (Jessica John) even more, and is all too painfully aware that she no longer feels that way about him. That point was driven home when he woke up one day with a Scrabble piece stuck to his forehead. “Who plays Scrabble on their own?” he asks Dale.
Ned has also noticed that his stuff is disappearing, piece by piece. Stuff you’d have in the garage, like drill bits, screwdrivers, and even a soapstone birdbath that was in the backyard. He suffers from insomnia, has a recurring nightmare and a short fuse, and may be losing his grip.
“If it’s true,” he tells Dale of his wife, “she’s not safe.”
Joy is a case of her own. She’s beautiful and bored, passionate, and pretty easily annoyed. When she wants lemonade, she buys out the grocer, squeezes all the lemons, adds sugar, then finds it too sweet and pours it down the drain.
What’s happening here? Is Joy squirreling stuff away somewhere? Selling it? Planning something desperate? Is this all a metaphor for the relationship?
Dale (Francis Gercke) is a much simpler case. The wiry owner of several car wash outlets, he’s married to the unseen Lyn, and feels he’s come up short in the accomplishments department. He’s also having a dalliance with Joy.
Harold Pinter once said his plays are about “the weasel under the cocktail cabinet.” Pinter’s influence on Butterworth is clear in this prime example of the quiet desperation of middle age.
This play requires one spectacular actor and two very fine ones, and Director Lisa Berger is lucky to be three-for-three in this category. Sears (whose absence onstage has been much missed) has never been better as psychologically on-the-edge Ned, who seems like a volcano about to blow any minute.
John expertly portrays Joy’s longing for something (and someone) else, playing right into the hand of Gerke’s Dale, dissatisfied with what he has and is, but fearful of attempting anything else.
This 90-minute production works technically as well as it does artistically: Michael McKeon’s realistic set, Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound, Peet Cocke’s lighting design, and Jessica John Gercke’s costumes all provide the proper nervously edgy atmosphere. Kudos also to dialect coach Jillian Frost, who makes the actors sound British but not incomprehensible.
This is an impressive beginning for the fledgling Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company. Let’s hope they find an appreciative audience here and their own home soon.
Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company’s production of “Parlour Song” plays through September 6, 2015 at ion theatre’s BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn, 3704 Sixth Avenue in Hillcrest.
Tuesday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm