THEATER REVIEW: “This” @ Dobama by Roy Berko

Through Sun 5/26

Social scientists explain that when relationships are formed, the resulting “group” follows rules that emerge or were implanted on the participants based on their past experiences and modeling the way in which the individual’s families and other influences operated. Once the rules are set, any alteration in the structure of the pair or group may send the group into dysfunction and demands that the operational procedures need to be altered. A death, birth of a child and personal traumas are examples of incidents that may cause trauma in operational plan.

Melissa James Gibson’s This, billed as an “un-romantic comedy,” which captures the uncertain steps of a circle of friends backing their way into middle age, is a prime vehicle for examining what happens when incidents cause dysfunction and interfere with long-held patterns of operation.

This places a spotlight on Jane, whose husband died a year ago, causing her to be a single mother with a group of lifelong friends who are unsure of how to cope with her rudderless existence. Husband and wife Marrell and Tom, part of the friendship circle, have recently had a baby. Sleepless nights and adjusting their time-patterns to the needs of the newborn, throw a curve into their mode of operation. Alan is going through a midlife crisis. What’s the single, gay man going to do with his life?

Into the mix comes Jean-Pierre, a physician affiliated with Doctors without Borders. His entrance into the group adds yet another cause for the need for adjustment and change.

Obie Award-winning Melissa James Gibson is a Canadian-born playwright who is noted for writing “well executed and wholly accessible works.” When it opened off-Broadway, This was labeled, “the best new play to open Off-Broadway this season.”

The realistic and appealing characters “are drawn with a fine focus and a piercing emotional depth; the dialogue sparkles with exchanges as truthful as they are clever; and…the play’s delicate pace, richly patterned wordplay and undercurrent of rue combine to cast a moving spell that lingers in the memory, like a sad-sweet pop song whose chorus you can’t shake.”

Director Nathan Matta keeps the pace rapid and has selected a well-balanced cast. The acting is realistic, fitting the script, with nicely textured nuances incorporated into the characterizations.

Rachel Lee Kolis creates the teacher and poet, Jane, as a woman whose angst and confusion over the loss of her husband, difficulty in dealing with her tween daughter, as well as living in a single widow world, are clear.

Treva Offutt sings and develops a Marrell who is both likeable and possesses the earth-mother quality that is necessary for dealing with the sexual relationship between Jane and Marrell’s husband Tom, her career as a jazz singer, her “I won’t sleep for more than fifteen minutes at a time” newborn son, and the perplexing problem of “how difficult is it to keep the water in the Brita above the filter line?”

Abraham McNeil Adams clearly displays Tom by highlighting the character’s nerdy and needy qualities as he gallops confusedly into middle-age. Craig Joseph is both acerbic and delightful as the “I don’t know where my life is heading” Alan. His interplay with Kolis, over the word “schvitz” is a total hoot.

Handsome Kieron Cindric (Jean-Pierre) uses his skills as a real-life French teacher to carry on an animated telephone conversation. It is somewhat surprising, however, that his “English-French” accent seems fake, spoken by an actor rather than a native French speaker.

Aaron Benson’s scenic design of sliding panels of various textures generally works well, but the need for constant pushing and pulling and rearranging and bringing furniture pieces on and off, though well-executed by a hard working set crew and the actors, becomes tiresome after a while. Fewer “realistic” scenes and some representations might have helped the flow of the action. Marcus Dana’s lights aided in setting the right moods for the action.

Capsule judgment: Melissa James Gibson’s This is a realistic presentation of existence and the stumbles and needed adjustments that must be made as life progresses. It gets a fine production at Dobama and is well worth the 90-minute sit.

This runs through Sun 5/26. Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

[Written by Roy Berko, member: Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, International Association of Theatre Critics]



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