Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of tiny father
The 80-minute piece is not dependent on plot but rather on human interaction through continuous back-and-forth exchange. Martin (Kevin O'Rourke) and Sarita (Peggy Pharr Wilson) were last involved 17 years earlier when their relationship ended. She's taken by surprise when, quite suddenly, Martin says hello; they are the only passengers currently stationed in car 4762. It seems serendipitous but, in actuality, Martin has been tracking Sarita and his motive is to "make amends." She is initially hesitant to reconnect with a man who was not at his best when she knew him but, more or less stranded on the train as it breaks down and needs repair, she joins in the push-and-pull dialogue. Not surprisingly, Sarita, given the potency of playwright Withers' words, ultimately speaks her mind.
The original production of Off Peak ran Off-Broadway last fall and into the winter. The current production is a New England premiere (author Brenda Withers is based in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where she co-founded Harbor Stage Company) and one that requires specific timing. Director James Warwick (with numerous acting credits) expertly moves around Wilson and O'Rourke, a seasoned, adept duo. That the pace of the show varies is a plus, since Martin and Sarita verbally tug at one another, then step back, then accelerate, and so on.
The persistent, aggressive Martin thinks he might have a means to at least partially soothe his conscience and, perhaps, re-establish contact with Sarita. Each at first claims to now be attached to someone else, but Martin is fibbing. She is the one who has moved on, while he is remains stuck, like the train, and hoping for better days ahead.
Designer Sasha Schwartz's interior of the car is spot-on with its tan, red and blue seats and more. The Voice of the Conductor (provided by Great Barrington Public Theater Artistic Director Jim Frangione) is suitably warbled and scratchy.
This show offers a snapshot of a couple of people who have been around the figurative block. Are they still able to dream of better days, and what will the future bring? Martin is determined and Sarita cares enough to partake in verbal banter which (despite some advance billing that the play is comedic) is mostly taut, with an occasional lighter line.
Kevin O'Rourke boasts impressive impressive film, TV and stage appearances and he's been a regular at Berkshire-based theaters. Peggy Pharr Wilson has performed over and again with Barrington Stage Company and elsewhere. These undeniably impressive actors have worked together previously and their moment-to-moment replies replicate life. The casting choices are splendid.
Off Peak is atypical in its structure. The sense of occasion, for certain, is immediate, but it's not as if a huge, compelling dramatic question hooks audience members at the outset. Instead, the play draws in theatergoers incrementally through conflict and development. Gradual tension increases, but there is not a denouement or climactic peak leading to resolution. That would be too clean and predictable. Instead, Withers' characters each release feelings, but life drama between two individuals doesn't necessarily lead to mutual satisfaction. Off Peak is not feel-good, but its honesty cannot be questioned. Martin recognized who and how he was and is now-proactive. Sarita neither rebuffs nor embraces him; it's complicated.
Off Peak, a Great Barrington Public Theater production, runs through July 23, 2023, at McConnell Theater in the Daniel Arts Center on the campus of Bard College at Simon's Rock, 84 Alford Rd, Great Barrington MA. For tickets and information, please call 413-372-1980 or visit GreatBarringtonPublicTheater.org.