AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Linda McLean
Directed by Jon Tracy
Presented by & at Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco / (415) 441-8822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Patrons of San Francisco's Magic Theatre are getting the first American view of not only Linda McLean's "Any Given Day" but also any play by the Scottish playwright. And some of them might be shaking their heads and wondering what's going on in this 2010 work. They may ask many questions, but McLean provides few solid answers, only a few hints in this two-part work, presented without intermission.

The first part is especially cryptic, but some clarity about it emerges in the second. According to press materials, both halves take place at 2 p.m. on the same day on opposite sides of Glasgow. The first half focuses on Sadie (Amy Kossow) and Bill (Christopher McHale), who "live with each other in a council-owned flat. They were, for a long time, kept in a home for the 'mentally defective' but were released into the community when their and other similar institutions were closed in the early 1990's," the script's introduction says.

Bill seems brighter and more functional than Sadie, but he's still below normal in intelligence. They get along well, though, and seem to have a caring relationship. He teases her about her weight and calls her daft, but she seems to shrug off his comments. Their lives apparently revolve around doing jigsaw puzzles and looking forward to occasional visits from his niece, Jackie. Things change dramatically when Bill goes out on a errand that rainy afternoon and their flat is invaded by an obscenity-spewing boy (Patrick Alparone), probably a teenager, with shocking results as Part 1 ends.

In Part 2 we meet niece Jackie (Stacy Ross), who works in a pub owned by Dave (James Carpenter). They're closing for the afternoon when Dave tells her that her son called and asked Dave to tell Jackie that "Today is a good day." The message upsets Jackie, but we're not sure why. Apparently he suffers from some unexplained mental or physical agony that makes good days a rarity. As Jackie and Dave continue to talk, she tells him that she must go visit her uncle, but she lingers as they drink wine and talk some more. Some of the conversation is sexually explicit, but there's no physical contact between the two. However, she does agree to go on an outing with him and leaves a phone message to tell Bill and Sadie that she won't be there that day.

Audience members who have no access to the script can't be quite sure how Sadie and Bill wound up together. The bigger questions, though, revolve around the boy. Who is he? Most audience members might assume he's Jackie's son, but why does he seek out Sadie? Is he jealous that Sadie and Bill get more of Jackie's time than he does, or is there some other reason? How did he know Sadie and Bill's phone number? Did he coerce it from Bill, or did he have some other way of knowing it?

For the most part, director Jon Tracy maintains a steady pace, especially in the second part when he has more intelligent characters to deal with. The first act is slower and more problematic because of the preponderance of repetitious exchanges between Sadie and Bill.

Some of the same reasoning applies to the actors' performances. Carpenter and Ross have good chemistry as their characters slowly open themselves to each other and the possibility of a relationship that's deeper than boss and employee. Despite the lack of intellectual depth in Sadie and Bill, Kossow and McHale do well. The main problem here is that Kossow's weight is distracting, especially because the Magic's thrust stage brings the audience and actors so close to each other. A lesser problem is that McHale tends to shout, at least in the early going.

Michael Locher's sets -- Sadie and Bill's living room and Dave's pub -- both work well. There's a time lapse while they're being changed, but this break gives the audience a chance to decompress from the shocking end of Part 1. York Kennedy designed the lighting and the sound. The latter is noteworthy for thunder as the audience enters and then the sound of rain. The costumes are by Christine Crook. Fight direction is by Dave Maier

In addition to the questions this play poses, it also provokes thought. On reflection, for example, I find Jackie to be the most intriguing character both because we learn the most about her and because she seems to bear the largest responsibility for the other characters. Therefore, it's interesting to speculate how she will deal with her blossoming relationship with Dave and what happened in Sadie and Bill's flat.

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