|Veronika Duerr, Stacy Fischer & Samantha Richert in "Ripe Frenzy"|
(photo: Zalman Zabansky)
As one approached the venue for the play Ripe Frenzy by Jennifer Barclay, one was greeted by a series of theater posters on the walls of prior productions of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Then one was handed a program with the phrase “striking topical drama” on its cover, and inside a note by Director Bridget Kathleen O'Leary referencing the shootings at Columbine and other schools. With regard to the setting, the program noted that the action was to take place in the town of Tavistown, New York in 2017, at the high school theater and the surrounding woods. One was tantalized by the ambiguously portentous admonition that “time is slippery here”. And indeed it was to be. We were certainly not in Kansas, Toto. This latest choice as the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, a co-production by New Rep Theatre and the Boston Center for American Performance, was beginning to feel more than a bit threatening and not about a small town paradise it may have first seemed.
|Stacy Fischer, Henry B. Gardner & Reilly Anspaugh in "Ripe Frenzy"|
(photo: Kalman Zabarsky)
Produced at Boston University's Studio ONE (from February 24th to March 11th), in an intermission-less fast-paced ninety minutes, this was a stunner from the first appearance of the main character Zoe (Veronika Duerr), as we were informed by her that she played the role of The Stage Manager decades ago in one of the school's biennial productions of “Our Town”, and she is now, among other things, (such as town historian), the real life stage manager of the fortieth production of the work (which she mysteriously refers to as the thirty-ninth-and-two-thirds production, which is the heaviest hint of what's to come); she is also mother of the show's projectionist. The director of this version of “Our Town” is Miriam (Stacy Fischer), also a mother, and helping out is another mother, Felicia (Samantha Richert). There are also teenagers, Matt (Henry B. Gardner), Bethany (Reilly Anspaugh), Hadley (also played by Anspaugh) and Bryan James McNamara (also played by Gardner).
Under O'Leary's taut direction, the cast, without exception, was stellar, most notably Duerr (who impressed earlier this season in SpeakEasy Stage's Men in Boats). Her opening lengthy monologue as Zoe was a true acting tour de force. The creative elements were also on point, from the Scenic Design by Afsoon Pajoufar, to the Sound Design by David Reiffel, the Costume Design by Annalynn Luu, and most especially the work of Projections Designer Jared Mezzocchi, who described his contribution as “mediaturgy” (the importance of which might even be a spoiler).
|Stacy Fischer & Veronika Duerr in "Ripe Frenzy"|
(photo: Kalman Zabarsky)
As the plot developed, we became more aware of what Zoe meant when she noted that “logic is calming” and that “positivity is a choice we make”; so is denial, expressed by her: “we must remind ourselves of the goodness in life”, and the fact that two seemingly opposite things can both be true. Love and horror co-exist. Ripe Frenzy is a much darker (and maybe more truthful) take on small town life than that of Wilder. To elaborate on these themes would be to give in to the temptation to clarify some issues that would be unfair spoilers. Many people have relatively benign and romanticized remembrances of Wilder's original, conveniently forgetting how even he had his bittersweet moments. In his preface to the published version of his work, he spoke of how theatergoers were beginning to seek plays that were “soothing”; while he sought to demonstrate “a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life”, he at the same time utilized the words “hundreds', “thousands” and “millions” many times, to assert that individuality is inner; it lies within. It's the obverse of what Playwright Barclay clearly sees, the town from the other side of the tracks.
Were Barclay to portray the character of Emily, she would still have her bemoaning as to how one never notices another in a cloud of ignorance and blindness. This Our Town has morphed into the current reality of what might now be entitled Every Town.