All words: Emily Catino
Some people like to credit the theater as being a good means of escape. Whether that may be an escape from reality, their own problems, or just a place to zone out for a little while. In “This” at Round House Theatre, however, you will not find any escape or glowing picture of what your life could be if you were one of the characters, but if you let that deter you from seeing this play then you are truly missing out. In lieu of cheap escapism, “This” teaches the audience along simultaneously with the characters how to navigate life during its lowest points. If I were to merely describe to you the problems facing Jane, Marrell, Tom, Alan, and Jean-Pierre it would appear to be contrived: Jane the widow, Marrell and Tom the new parents facing marital problems, Alan the witty gay friend, and Jean-Pierre the dashing Frenchman who is a doctor without borders (because what group of friends doesn’t have one of those?). But despite this kind of familiar exterior, what’s underneath is complex, poignant, heart breaking, and heart-warming all at the same time. All of which is conveyed through the dialogue and writing that has all those same effects standing alone, even without the good acting and the depth that each character’s situation bring to the table.
We meet the cast of friend’s at a dinner party at Marrell and Tom’s apartment, and it is clear that Jane’s is the central conflict of the play. She is rounding on the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death and has clearly still not come to terms with it (she keeps his ashes on top of her refrigerator in one example of some of the morbid humor that creeps into the show). But not only is she dealing with the loss of her husband, but she seems to be lacking any clear picture of who she is or her purpose. What is so entertaining about learning these facts is that it is done in such a smart and unconventional way: through a game about a story that doesn’t exist. It sounds confusing and existential (and maybe it kind of is) but it is something that has to be seen. Once we learn the basics about each of the characters, everything really starts to unravel as they try to navigate temptation, betrayal, and their own existence (okay, maybe the play is slightly existentialist but SEE IT ANYWAY) with humor and heart.
I’ve kind of said this before but it really bears repeating—the writing of this play is the true star. This is the kind of play where every mundane word out of one of the character’s mouths can spark an intellectual conversation or debate that not only is so fun to listen to, but tells the audience vital information about the characters. Any play that can inform and entertain is something that any person would love to see. The play’s stand-alone complexity and worth is only amplified by the unique staging Round House Theatre offers and the great performances and timing of the actors. I think Lise Bruneau (who plays Jane) and Michael Glenn (who plays Alan) are the true standouts. Glenn gave the play the aspects of the comedy that were so vital to its success, because without him the audience and characters would have been so in their heads that they would have forgotten that life isn’t all bad. The fact that he was able to accomplish that with apparent ease that was great to watch. Bruneau’s moment comes in the final scene with Jane, as the play comes full-circle and ends where it began: with the game. Bruneau finally addresses the extent of Jane’s feelings about her husband’s death in a performance that will either have you crying or at the very least getting some serious chills. And yes, I was one of those crying people, but it could have been for what I had just seen (it was) or the fact that the play was ending because This is something you don’t want to miss.