Monday, July 13, 2015

Off the Main Road -- at Williamstown Theatre Festival ***

For her first production, Williamstown Theatre Festival’s new artistic director Mindy Greenfield has made an interesting choice — presenting the world premiere of a William Inge play written in the 1960’s but never staged. It is hard to believe now that Inge was once mentioned in the same breath as Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams as one of our top playwrights. His reputation fell far and fast. Although conventional wisdom has it that most lost plays have been lost for good reason, WTF was smart to bring this deeply flawed but rarely dull play to the stage. It presents both Inge’s strengths — astute observation of Midwesterners and vivid portraits of female characters — and his weaknesses — unconvincing male characters and a penchant for melodrama. Kyra Sedgwick plays Faye Garrit. While still in her teens, she was forced by her overbearing mother (played by Estelle Parsons, amazing at 87) to marry a wealthy older man. Upon his death, to her mother’s horror, she met and married a popular baseball player Manny Garrit (Jeremy Davidson). Now, 10 years later, Manny is no longer a player and sometimes becomes abusive when he drinks. As the play opens, after getting a black eye from Manny, she has fled to a resort cabin not far from the city with Julia (an excellent Mary Wiseman), her daughter from her first marriage, who is attending a convent school. Sparks fly between Julia and Vic Burns (a fine Daniel Sharman), son of the landlady (Becky Ann Baker, virtually wasted here). Faye often spends time with a gay art dealer Jimmy Woodford (Howard W. Overshown), a friend since childhood. Faye’s impulsive fling with an oversexed taxi driver, Gino (Aaron Costa Ganis), has unanticipated consequences. Kyra Sedgwick has too strong a personality to easily play an aimless, indecisive woman, but she does her best. The play has some humorous moments, some of which were probably unintentional. The idea that a domineering mother would produce a daughter who becomes a neglectful mother whose own daughter develops a deep hunger for certainty in her life seemed psychologically convincing. I wish the play hadn’t descended into overwrought melodrama, but that’s Inge for you. The set design by Takeshi Kata and costumes by Paloma Young are fine. Evan Cabnet’s direction is assured. Running time 2 hours 10 minutes including intermission. (Closed)

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