by Shirley Lorraine
SPTC Stages Work in Progress
Santa Paula Theatre Center’s season is off to a firm start. Now being presented on the backstage is Friendly Valley, a new work by David Lewis Newman. Using the backstage is an effective way to utilize time and talent between mainstage productions.
This offering is a work in progress that needed stage time to gauge effectiveness and refine the writing. While there is still work to be done, in my opinion, the work has a solid beginning.
The setting is a retirement home where an elderly couple live. Married for 53 years, the Simonson’s are now facing the impending demise of Mrs. Simonson. Father, Jack (Bink Goncharoff), has called their three sons to the bedside to say goodbye.
Each son carries a shoulder chip the size of a boulder over unresolved issues from their past. As a result, they are stiff and unwelcoming to each other. Each resents the others for perceived wrongs and flaws. These result in dramas overshadowing the real reason they are together – to say goodbye to their mother.
This situation embodies elements with which many in my age group are, sadly, all too familiar. The difficulty of dealing with impending death, managing the grief, the regrets and the unfulfilled possibilities all come at a time when what is really needed is support, understanding and patience.
The youngest of the sons, Andy (John Webber), while carrying the persona of the loose-lived guy, actually (again, in my opinion) came across as the most “together” character in the play. His motto, “It is what it is” carries with it the ability to be flexible and roll with the punches of the moment.
The middle son, Mark (Scott Blanchard), is an unforgiving, unlikeable person who just won’t let go of old issues. His “reflective moment” with dimmed lighting seemed out of place and did not help redeem his character.
The oldest is Ronnie (Michael Perlmutter), whose past haunts him. Unbeknownst to his estranged brothers, he has been living a quiet married life and getting over his mistakes.
Leticia Mattson delightfully portrays Ronnie’s cheerful, patient and positive wife Carmen. She is surprised by the attacks on her husband’s character and strikes back in his defense.
All the actors are outstanding. I was taken in by their sincerity and the familiarity of the situation. As good as it was, however, it didn’t really go anywhere except to provide an outlet for the brothers to quarrel. Jack needed support and the sons were unable to adequately fill that simple need following mother’s passing.
While no happy ending was expected, I did hope that there would be some resolution that made me care about the future of the family. Yes, the situation hit home. Yes, the acting was superb. But there was no entertainment value, to me, in watching a family’s pain and suffering without giving me something to hope for.
When I go to the theater, I want to enjoy some temporary respite from my daily existence, not an extension of them. It is hoped that the writer (who also directed the piece) will continue to refine the work and offer some positive aspects to the outcome.
Friendly Valley runs for one more weekend, through April 24. www.santapaulatheatercenter.org (805) 525-4625. Adult content.