Plays At Cheltenham Unconvincing

Posted: May 29, 1993

Details. Details. Details. They're vitally important to a play, and when a writer isn't careful to make them convincing, the work suffers.

That's what happens to the two short works by Newtown native Nancy Bagshaw- Reasoner at Cheltenham Center for the Arts. They founder on obvious flaws.

In Somebody's Wife, the first of the 40-minute plays, a woman and man who had an affair 16 years earlier, meet for the first time since they broke up. She is a happily married housewife, he is now a priest.

At first we are led to believe their reunion is coincidental. It develops, though, that the woman deliberately told mutual friends where she was living, knowing they would inform the priest. The priest is convinced the woman wants to publicly expose him because he physically abused her when they were a couple, yet we are to believe he has contrived to be assigned to a parrish in the city where the woman lives.

Since both are apparently now content, why have they gone to the trouble to effect a meeting that is painful to the woman and, the priest thinks, potentially disastrous to him? Bagshaw-Reasoner never offers a cogent explanation. The play actually made more sense when we thought the meeting was coincidental.

An even more puzzling detail is the woman's feelings toward the man when they were together. Early on, she says she loved him then. Later she says she never gave him her heart. Each statement is given equal weight. In a play rehashing a relationship, such an important detail should not be left to guess at.

These details make it seem as if the writer is forcing a situation on the audience, but the play's real problem is that the couple's meeting turns out to mean little to them and, by extension, to us. They talk about the old affair in detail, make nickel psychological analyses of themselves, then part, presumably to go on with their lives, unaffected.

In Somebody's Husband, Bagshaw-Reasoner would have us believe that a husband and wife can have been together for 15 years without the wife's knowing that the husband was once an accomplished pianist or the husband knowing that his spouse wanted to be an artist. I didn't believe it - or much else in this play.

The setting is the couple's bedroom following their return from the funeral of a friend who has committed suicide. The woman seems unreasonably angry at the dead man. It turns out she has good reason to be furious, but the playwright leaves it too long to tell us the cause of her rage.

She doesn't tell, or at least strongly hint, enough about the family's situation to make the ending seem anything but a playwright's contrivance. Instead of planting pertinent details, she fills the time by having the couple discover things about each other that anybody else would have talked about on a first date.

Susan Wilder and Bruce Kirkpatrick are the actors in both pieces. Considering the imperfect scripts they are working with, they do quite well in developing personalities for their characters under Paul Mesheijian's attentive direction. Wilder's portrayals particularly have presence and immediacy, which is fortunate, for the female character dominates each work. Kirkpatrick's stolid, deliberate approach tends to make the priest duller than he should be, but well suits the laconic, depressive husband of the second play.

TOUGH LOVE

Two one-act plays, "Somebody's Wife" and "Somebody's Husband," written by Nancy Bagshaw-Reasoner. Directed by Paul Meshejian, settings by David Gordon, costumes by M. Michael Montgomery, lighting by Deborah D. Peretz. Presented by Cheltenham Center for the Arts, 439 Ashbourne Rd., Cheltenham. Ends June 13.

The cast: Susan Wilder and Bruce Kirkpatrick.

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