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THEATER REVIEW: “The Woolgatherer” is a “stunning production” by ion

You have to wonder what draws some people together.

Take Rose (Rachael VanWormer), a terminally fearful small-town dime store clerk in South Philadelphia, and cross-country trucker Cliff (Brian Mackey), stuck in town temporarily for truck repairs.

Rose is fragile and emotionally shut off, but has long fantasized about a stranger walking into the store “whose smile you can hang onto.” Cliff is mouthy, earthy, and when he walked in saw in Rose the possibility for a little wham-bam action to pass the time.

Doesn’t sound promising, does it? Especially not when Rose’s idea of a conversational gambit is the suicide of the last resident of her dingy apartment, followed by an account of the trauma Rose experienced watching a gang of thugs stone cranes to death at the zoo.

But Cliff does not share Rose’s dim view of life; he is in fact a kidder with a storehouse of funny one-liners to make Neil Simon envious. His response to her hailstorm of bleakness is, “Do you believe in life before death?”

Playwright William Mastrosimone’s first play, “The Woolgatherer,” is a thematic precursor of Terrence McNally’s “Frankie And Johnny In The Clair De Lune.” It is also an actor’s play, demanding fine performances to carry the audience along on this unlikely journey.

Clear time in your schedule to catch two of San Diego’s finest actors – Rachael VanWormer and Brian Mackey – in ion theatre’s stunning production of “The Woolgatherer.” It plays through July 31, wonderfully directed by Glenn Paris.

VanWormer will break your heart as the wounded Rose, who wants nothing more than to prove to herself that love – which has thus far eluded her – is attainable, despite all the roadblocks she has placed in her own way.

But it’s Mackey who carries the show. He’s got that South Philly accent down and the bull-in-a-china-shop demeanor to match. But he’s also the world-weary one, betrayed by love himself, who must move from a wisecracking pleasure seeker to the first tentative moves toward human connection.

Bravo to set designer Claudio Raygoza, as well, for creating a set that works for both shows ion is currently producing, and to Karin Filijan and Melanie Chen for fine work on lighting and sound design, respectively.

Hillcrest is lucky to have ion, which specializes in the adventurous and the serious. And in “The Woolgatherer,” ion is lucky to have two actors at the top of their form to interpret this play.

The details

“The Woolgatherer” plays through July 31 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn, 3704 Sixth Ave.

Tuesday at 7 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

For tickets call (619) 600-5020 or visit HERE.

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