AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Carter W. Lewis
Directed by Loretta Greco
Presented by Magic Theatre
Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco / (415) 441-8822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

No stranger to the San Francisco Bay Area after freelance directing for several companies, Loretta Greco has settled down to serve as artistic director of the Magic Theatre. As such, she makes her directoral debut with a practically brand new play, "Evie's Waltz" by Carter W. Lewis. It's an auspicious beginning for both this gifted director and this thought-provoking play.

Erik Flatmo's set places the action on the deck of a home probably in East or Midwest, judging by the bare trees in the background and later by a reference to poison ivy. (Poison oak, rather than poison ivy, is the problem in California.) On the deck are a gas grill and a metal table with four chairs. A sliding patio door looks into a tastefully furnished room -- all indicative of suburban comfort. It's a warm evening because the home's owners, Clay (Darren Bridgett) and Gloria Matthews (Julia Brothers), are getting ready to grill their dinner. As they do so, though, they're bickering about the fact that their 16-year-old son, Danny (whom we never see), was suspended because he took a gun to school that morning. Gloria is highly upset, worrying about her son's future, while Clay seems less concerned.

They're expecting the mother of Clay's girlfriend, who also was suspended because of the gun, to come over for dinner to discuss the problem. Instead the girlfriend, Evie (Marielle Heller), shows up in camouflage pants (costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt) and says her mother was too drunk to leave the house. Evie also informs them that Danny isn't in his room as they had thought. Instead he's in some trees uphill from the yard, and he has a hunting rifle that her father left behind when he deserted the family.

Along the way, Evie also tells them a lot more than they had known about Danny. He's a deeply disturbed youth, someone who endures bullying and teasing by his schoolmates. She hints at Columbine-like plans. The title comes from the young couple's love of waltzing and Danny's love of Johann Strauss Jr. In a chilling scene, Evie dances with Clay to the music of "The Blue Danube" (sound design by Sara Huddleston) while York Kennedy's lighting design views the scene as if through a rifle scope, with the cross hairs zeroing in on each of the three characters. The tension continues to build throughout the play as Evie reveals more information about Danny and their relationship. Understandably, the two parents become more upset and frightened both for themselves and for Danny.

Under Greco's sure-handed direction, all three actors follow the play's emotional arc beautifully. Brothers' Gloria undergoes the most profound change as her deep-seated anger gives way to the realization of how much she loves Danny. Her telling him so in a voice mail to him signals the possibility of hope for the family. Bridgett has his own challenges as Clay, whose character has not been as well developed by the playwright. Nevertheless, he finds a way to figure into the play's potential resolution. Although Heller may be a bit too old to play a teenager, she captures Evie's angst and anger as well as her neediness.

The play touches on a number of issues ranging from dysfunctional families to the agonies of being a teenager and of being a parent, especially in today's violent society. I wouldn't be surprised to see other theater companies adding it to their seasons. It's definitely worth seeing.

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