Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 30, 2011


TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through February 27, 2011
by Meghan Lynn Allen

Melissa James Gibson's "This" examines five friends who struggle to communicate. Gibson very obviously chose the structure of the English language as the vehicle to demonstrate the play. Billed as a comedy, it tackles complex relationships with issues of adultery, death, grief, and guilt. Although there are laughs here and there, it's a melancholy comedy at best. With an all-you-can-eat buffet of misunderstood pronouns and interrupted phrases, the piece plays out less like compelling human interaction and more like a maudlin episode of "Three's Company." Gibson's obsession with the language of the play leaves the characters underdeveloped and unlikable. While it is obvious to see what Gibson tries to do, the script never quite catches the momentum the piece demands. This is further complicated by the director's lack of attention to the pace of the play. Scenes lag. The pace is choppy. There are long actors' pauses. To add salt to the wound, stir in some slow, awkward set changes and mismatched, dramatic set change music.

However, kudos to actors Beth Wittig (Jane) and Clark Carmichael (Tom) for doing their best with what was given. There are, indeed, talented actors beneath the mess of this piece. Sadly, the audience never grows to care about Jane or Tom. The only likable character is Jane's best friend Alan played by Andrew Rein. Rein is given the strongest comic moments and has fun with Alan's dark wit, drinking problem, and sweet and sour demeanor. Rein has the unfortunate task of being saddled with the least convincing plotline of the show: Alan's profession as a mnemonist saves the day when a conversation can't be recalled and little bits of the play need to be packaged up into a tidy box. This sad device is deflating to Rein's good work.

TheaterWorks' usual talent for breathing life into the arts, Hartford, and its audience member falls flat with "This".