Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pied-a-Terre, s'il vous plait

Pied-a-Terre, s’il vous plait
By Tom Wachunas

Considered in a general way, the idea behind stage readings, sometimes billed as “readers plays,” might be uninteresting to some theatre goers. The notion of watching actors with script- in- hand, reading their parts amid sparse if any sets, and no real stage lighting, might even seem off-putting.

But when the material is riveting, and talented performers are fully engaged with their characters, you can easily become oblivious to the lack of traditional theatrical accoutrements and presentation, and in turn be fully absorbed in the moment. And that is precisely the case with an upcoming Rainbow Repertory Company presentation of “Pied-a-Terre,” a two-act drama written by Dr. John Anastasi and directed by Rainbow Repertory founder Lois DiGiacomo. The play will be presented/read August 15-16 at Cable Recital Hall in Canton Cultural Center for the Arts.

Anastasi is a cardiothoracic surgeon who worked in Canton in the late 1980s and is now based in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He is also a screenplay writer and an accomplished playwright whose work has been presented on New York stages. “Pied-a-Terre,” published by Samuel French in 2008, was produced as a showcase at the Beckett Theater at Theater Row (New York City), given a full production at Penn State University in 2006, and an Off Broadway premier in 2007 at the Kirk Theater at Theater Row.

“Pied-a-Terre” is French for, literally, “foot on the ground,” and the phrase generally means a temporary lodging, or a resting place. In the context of this play, the character of Jack, a Connecticut-based attorney, at one point uses the term to explain to his puzzled wife, Julia, why he bought an apartment in Manhattan. He thought she’d be pleased that they could have a second home. All of the play’s “action,” – more like history, really - transpires in that apartment, but as Julia progressively discovers, the place is, for her, neither restful nor homey.

When Julia, a television journalist with a pain-filled past, first discovers the apartment, her private exploration of the place is halted by the unexpected appearance of Katie, a beautiful young woman who, like Julia, is haunted by a startling past. Katie is wrestling with her own demons, one of them being that she’s a hooker, homeless before Jack let her stay in the apartment. Amid testy exchanges, the two women discover much about each other, and their relationship to Jack, as the story unfolds through various time-shifts. An important sub-text is a heartrending exploration of the complexities of cross-generational transmission of genetic diseases - in this case, Cystic Fibrosis. Long-standing secrets and delusions are revealed about all three characters in emotional admissions both searing and tender, exposing deep-running hurts and guilt.

I attended a rehearsal-reading of the play on July 25. This was at a point when much of the fine tuning had yet to be realized. Still, I was struck by both the intensity and authenticity of the performers as they forged their way into their characters’ deepest motives and dreams (or nightmares). Don and Jan Jones – husband and wife in real life- play Jack and Julia. Their portrayals of bittersweet humor and real anguish are genuinely poignant and muscular. So too with Anita Artzner in her role of the street-hardened Katie.

In deference to Lois DiGiacomo’s wishes, I will not here reveal the ending of the play. She characterized it to me recently as “falling off a cliff.” Fair enough, though maybe not quite as nihilistic as it might sound at first. And I’m not sure overused words like “surprise” or “unexpected” adequately get at the real heart of it either. You’ll need to judge for yourself, and there’s only one way to do that. Suffice to say that Dr. John Anastasi’s play is a relevant, lovingly written and engrossing story with a complicated (though certainly not un-navigable) ethos. You’ll be hanging on until the last minute.

“Pied-a-Terre,” (“Second Home”), a play by Dr. John Anastasi, directed by Lois DiGiacomo, August 15 at 8pm and August 16 at 2:30pm, Cable Hall, inside Canton Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 North Market Avenue, Canton
$12.50 Available at the door/ Reservations: (330) 456 – 7397

Photo: (Left-to-right) Playwright Dr. John Anastasi, performers Anita Artzner, Don Jones, Jan Jones

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