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Individual performances elevate ‘Red Maple’

Individual performances elevate ‘Red Maple’

World premiere is given a solid production at theREP
Individual performances elevate ‘Red Maple’
Oliver Wadsworth, Julia Knitel and Yvonne Perry are shown in a scene from Capital Rep’s “Red Maple.”
Photographer: Richard Lovrich

ALBANY — At the beginning of David Bunce’s “Red Maple,” a world premiere being given a solid production at theREP, husband John (Oliver Wadsworth) and wife Karen (Yvonne Perry), newly estranged and living separately while enjoying the occasional roll in the hay in their handsome Albany condo, are yelling back and forth to each other as they scurry from room to room prepping for dinner guests, not hearing what the other is saying and being interrupted by Karen’s constantly ringing cell phone.

What we have here is a failure to communicate--a theme of this play.

One hundred minutes later the two of them are all lovey-dovey on the couch, apologizing for their bad behavior and swearing eternal allegiance.

This is no spoiler alert: we know they’ll end up canoodling. The frothy entertainment --- part farce, part black comedy, part dramedy — sails along with a few amusing surprises to keep us merry.

Who are those guests? Good friends Stephanie Morton (Elizabeth Meadows Rouse) and hubby Robert (James Llloyd Reynolds), college English prof. While the women chat in the kitchen, Robert takes John into his confidence about a decision he has made: to commit suicide. 

He asks John not to tell Stephanie until he is gone and explain things to her. It is never clear, actually, what is motivating Robert. (His subsequent explanation about the elimination of his college’s Humanities Department doesn’t make sense because he wouldn’t have been able to keep that info from Stephanie, as he claims.)

But when John blurts out the news, much to Robert’s consternation and the women’s astonishment, things take a hilarious turn right at the end of Act I, guaranteeing that you’ll be back for Act II. 

For my money the denouement is the least satisfying part of the script. This quartet of modern middle-aged marrieds has gotten involved in something so humorously strange and behave in such a silly manner that gravitas via monologues late in the play feels tonally off. 

Playing on Brian Prather’s snazzy set, with walls filled with photographer John’s pictures, the cast of five (Julia Knitel does a delightful turn as an uninvited guest), under Margaret E. Hall’s direction, rightly goes with big, broad and fast. One-liners satisfy; some physical business --- like a running gag about hand wounds — amuse. (Credit David Girard with fight choreography, too.) 

Bunce has credibly created four distinct main characters, and the actors do right by them.  Stephanie is loud, bossy and good-hearted, and Rouse — with a helmet of bouncy, blond hair-- gets all of that.

Reynolds’s Robert self-importantly struts and frets his last hours upon the stage, never quite thinking things through.

Perry captures the play’s most sober character, a woman who has to clean up the messes both John and her annoying boss make. No wonder she has moved to a room at the Ramada Inn: a little peace and quiet! 

And Wadsworth’s John -- dressed in comfy clothes, swilling Scotch behind Karen’s back, turning everything into a joke, mugging, deflecting seriousness (Karen says, “John you’re not helping!” over and over again) -- is utterly charming, in an inappropriate way.

The audience at Tuesday’s opening laughed often, though there was complete silence at the end, as each spouse explained himself/herself, reactions that clearly show Bunce’s intentions were understood and well-received. Indeed, at intermission the folks next to us said, “It’s pretty good,” only to be corrected: “It IS good!”

‘Red Maple’

WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: through Feb. 17
HOW MUCH:  $57-$22
MORE INFO:  518.445.7469

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