Oblivion

Sometimes it’s best to have no expectations. Walking in to the Fireside Room at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation building it takes a moment for it to actually dawn on us this is where the play is going to be performed.  There are two rows of temporary seats on either side of the long narrow space; at the fireside end of the room is a couch and armchair, in the middle of the room, within touching distance of the audience, a dinner table and chairs. At the other end of the room is a staircase that leads to the unseen second story of the house.

Playwright, Carly Mensch, has entered the consciousness of the binge watching generation with her work on Orange is the New Black, and her play, Oblivion, is a wonderful intrusion into the life of a dysfunctional New York family and an examination of the role of faith in modern life. And we really do feel like we are intruding. Director, Christopher Goodrich, expresses in his program notes his love of intimate theatre (and it doesn’t get more intimate than this) and thankfully we are in experienced hands because any lack of honesty from our four actors would make for an uncomfortable way to spend a couple of hours.

The story centers on Dixon (Zach Brewster-Geisz) his wife, Pam (Mindy Shaw) and their daughter, Julie (Ruth Rado).  Brewster-Geisz is terrific as he navigates between cool Dad, loving husband and mid-life crisis. As the extent of how far Dixon’s moral compass has swung off course is revealed, he has an opportunity to show just how much character work has gone in to this performance and his arc throughout the show and the truth he brings to the role is seriously impressive stuff. Shaw gives a fine performance of her own and she is at her best in her one on one work with Brewster-Geisz. Their relationship journey is compelling theatre as we go from a romantic game night curled up on the couch to Shaw’s genuine hurt and self-doubt as she struggles to come to terms with her husband’s breakdown. The Mother/Daughter exchanges feel a little formulaic in contrast, even if the reasons for the conflict between them are from it. Rado comes close in these moments to crossing the line into cliché stroppy teenager but always pulls it back just in time. The rest of her performance is an absolute delight as she is quirky and goofy and curious and by the time she reads her list of questions to God we believe she desperately wants the answer to every one of them. The fourth member of the cast is Julie’s best friend, Bernard, played by Jonathan Frye. Frye plays the awkward and uncomfortable moments with Julie’s parents to perfection and they are the funniest moments in the play (along with the least sexy stage kiss of the year shared with Rado). He never fully connects with his unseen relationship to his film critic idol leaving the character a little one-dimensional…but any complaints about the acting choices are minor as all four give excellent performances.

The stage has some pretty severe limitations (not so much unexpected as non-existent) and it does impact the production as actors enter through the same door as the audience. The set changes are achieved with the least fuss possible and we’re engrossed enough in the story that we’re content to wait after one scene as the stage crew mop the floor. There are times where Goodrich could have blocked scenes differently to allow us to take in everything that was happening, rather than feeling like we were watching a tennis rally, but even this somewhat adds to the sense of voyeurism for the audience. Andrew Dodge pulls of a minor lighting miracle as one end of the space is successfully converted into a laundromat and bleachers at a basketball game and both these locations are complimented brilliantly by the sound design of Matthew Mills. The set and costumes are as functional as we could expect (apart from one awfully fitting leather jacket for Dixon) and it’s difficult to know how to score a show technically that feels like it is half way between a workshop and a full production because of the venue.  But it isn’t difficult to recommend a show where the director has got such first rate performances out of his cast and the opportunity to see them should not be missed.

#tothepoint Rating: 68/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $20

Value Review: +$16

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $36 making it exceptional value. Oblivion continues at Unexpected Stage until August 6th.