Two Weekends and a Day!
Every once in a while a play comes along that so resonates with the audience, is so in sync with their experience and values that it surprises in a delightful way. Such is the case with Susan Westfall's world premiere of "Two Weekends and a Day" directed by Ricky Martinez and produced by New Theatre.
This is not to say that the play shies away from painful experiences, but rather that it paints these events with a light touch. In other words the play unfolds gently. This is the result of careful attention paid by all involved: playwright, director, designers, and especially its actors.
At the center of this history is Melinda, (Barbra Sloan at her finest) who has lost her best friend, Gina, (Evelyn Perez in a devastatingly honest portrayal) to cancer. Two years have passed and Billy, Gina's husband (Clint Archambault) has been jolted out of his morass by Rebecca, (the beautiful Susie Kreitman Taylor), his next door neighbor, and is now ready to move on. The problem is Melinda has always yearned for a relationship with Billy from the first time they met at a laundry mat in college.
In fact on one of the two weekends referenced in the title, during a visit with the ailing Gina, Melinda has actually slept with Billy. Melinda's husband and best friend of Billy, Jonathan (Kent Wilson) is blissfully ignorant of this one-time hook-up.
The play begins with the second weekend referenced in the title with Melinda dreading her introduction to Rebecca. Their rivalry sets the play in motion. Friendships are tested as betrayals are revealed. But through it all, the play is about how these intimate relationships and friendships, rich with memories, are sustained and how forgiveness triumphs.
All of the acting is natural and the performers comfortable in their characterizations. If there was an occasional hesitation searching for a line, (as is common in a new work where revisions by the playwright are sometimes necessary even at the last minute), it never distracted from the pace, which is laid back and perfectly in keeping with a play set in a beach house and then a mountain refuge. This is reinforced by sound designer Anton Church's wind chimes, ocean waves and chirping birds.
Each side of the stage defines the location for the two weekends: the wooden mountain cabin with its front porch and bird feeders and the beach house which is blue with white trim and also has a porch. In the middle between these two sets is the back yard of the beach house with patio tables, chairs, a cooler and a barbecue. All are well executed by set designer Stephen E. Davis.
The lighting by Eric Nelson is also effective in communicating the mood, soft and romantic in the love scenes and stark during the major conflicts in the afternoons and less harsh in the scenes of reconciliation, set in the early evening.
Director Martinez knows how to elicit laughter, exude sexuality, and evoke pity in all of his characters. The love scene between Melinda and Billy is touching and funny as well as sexy. As they go at it, he complains about his knees as she talks about how remiss she has been in going to the gym. Westfall clearly understands how passion changes over time.
The ladies on stage are all luminescent. Each one has a face that literally shines with emotion. In the role of Mrs. Tinoco, Melinda and Jonathan's neighbor, Kim Ostrenko, is particularly poignant in her disappointment when she discovers Melinda has returned to Jonathan. In her duel role as Doctor Bishop, she is also fervent in her belief that holistic medicine can save Gina from cancer.
For her part Sloan lights up the stage with her smiles and her tears. Her sadness when she discovers that Gina knew of her adultery with Billy is especially moving. Perez infuses Gina with both pragmatism and hope. Her comforting words and caresses are also moving. Taylor is impressive in the scene in which she questions Jonathan's professed love for her; she is simultaneously hurt and indignant.
For his part, Wilson plays a man who believes that ignorance can be bliss and would rather avoid confrontation at any cost in the hopes that by ignoring a situation it will eventually resolve itself. His performance is very touching when as Jonathan he asks Melinda if she ever truly loved him at any time during their thirty-five years together.
Archambault's Billy who is unfaithful to his wife and bird dog's his best friend with his wife and now is ready to move on with a woman seventeen years his junior is never played as a villain. Archambault's Billy is affable if practical. In his portrayal of Billy the audience can see his guilt and pain but also his love, patience and desire to keep on living. He tells Melinda, "I'm right here, but I have to move on." Through Billy, Westfall is able to articulate the theme of the necessity of dealing with loss. This culminates in Billy's marriage proposal.
Is the play perfect? Of course it's not. It could use some cutting here and there, especially in the opening scene, as well as some fleshing out of the relationships, like the one between two female best friends, but it nevertheless weaves a compelling narrative about the roller coaster relationship of couples with a long history which is not often examined on stage today.
"Two Weekends and a Day" produced by New Theatre runs through Dec. 13 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, SW 211th St., Cutler Bay. For tickets or information, call 786-573-5300 or visit www.smdcac.org