“This” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ January 24, 2011


Actors Theatre, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Are middle age and the myriad of adjustments and re-examinations people must make funny? On the surface, it’s a painful process that affects some more than others but playwright Melissa James Gibson has found abundant and clever humor in this serious situation in her off-Broadway hit, “This.”

In Actors Theatre’s sharply funny and zany staging, the play makes a smashing local debut. You’ll howl at Gibson’s breezy and brilliantly wry dialogue but afterward you’ll pause reflectively on this critical fine-tuning period. The most perplexing issue facing some is confronting premature death. “This” explores death through central character Jane, while her other four friends introduce sexual, marriage, and relationship challenges. The issues are very real and Gibson’s funny one-liners and streaming jokes find fascinating ways of looking at these critical things while never letting audiences forget how serious and penetrating middle age has become.

As the play begins, Jane is facing the first anniversary of her husband’s death. She’s spending the evening with Tom and Marrell who are squabbling as their new son sleeps and as their lonely gay friend Alan bemoans his loveless life. They await Jean Pierre, a doctor, her friends want Jane to meet. The relationships between this group bring up the middle age struggles and they don’t always handle things perfectly causing further strain. More details will spoil the discoveries audiences will make and Gibson’s humorous way of exploring the issues also can’t be revealed. By the end, Jane’s cover-up of her husband’s passing boils to the surface and there’s hope the characters will grow, solve their problems, and build richer lives.

The production couldn’t be stronger starting with Ron May’s superlative staging that keeps the comedy/drama gliding along at a breakneck clip. His actors are also outstanding as they handle the comedy with relish but also deliver stark dramatic interpretations of the challenges they confront. Anne Marie Falvey is the perfect Jane, serious, hardworking, and focused who always keeps her poise. Oliver Wadsworth couldn’t be funnier as the gay Alan. Wadsworth has impeccable comic timing and delivery but always shows the pain and hurt Alan’s shallow life creates. Yolanda London’s Marrell is intense and her husband Tom is played with understated dignity and struggle by Michael Peck as a couple facing a grave challenge to their marriage. David Dickinson is very French as the loose Jean Pierre who treats his middle years with carefree abandon and that helps him best through the challenges.

“This” delivers genuine humor but never leaves out the underlying seriousness of the probing challenges faced during the middle years. It continues through February 6. For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or order tickets online at www.actorstheatrephx.org.

Grade: A