Monday, May 18, 2015

"Midsummer" - A Tale of Reluctant Romance

Randy Redd as Bob and Carey Van Driest as Helena Photo Credit Kristi Jan Hoover
    Like antagonists in a duel, Bob and Helena face each other midstage, guitars strapped to the backs, then break into a lilting ballad.  It a fine way to start "Midsummer (A Play with Songs)," now getting its due at the City Theatre on Pittsburgh’s South Side
    Not that the tunes written by Gordon McIntyre, founder of indie band, Ballboy, are meant carry along the narrative line of playwright, David Grieg’s antic script. Rather they seem to provide refreshing interludes that underscore the sentiment of the moment and add depth to the characters, all two of them who carry the show through its event packed weekend in Edinburgh.
    Unlikely candidates for a romantic tryst let alone a long term relationship, Bob is a boyish 35, lithe and nimble, a black-haired, good-looking neer-do-well working on the fringes of organized crime while Helena is a divorce lawyer with a penchant for adulterous escapades that feature other women’s spouses.
    The two meet by chance in a wine bar, and it’s Helena who makes the first move. Ironically both are 35, near the midsummer of their own lives, and it’s touch and go at first, but with wine-infused inspiration, the couple inevitably head off for a night of erotic exploits at Helena’s flat.
    As Bob, Randy Redd is an affable sort on a sordid mission to close on a stolen car deal but with the ultimate goal of just busking around Europe for a year playing guitar for small change. Helena, statuesque and more mild-mannered, her long auburn hair flowing over her shoulders like some Celtic goddess, is a bit more pragmatic and reality grounded. Both however, wake up the following morning with gigantic hangover and a guilty resolve to part ways.
    But fate has it otherwise as both end up floundering through an action packed weekend together, she with an embarrassing incident in front of the church where she’s late for her sister’s wedding, he with a arrival at the bank too late to deposit his ill-gained loot.
 Carey Van Driest and Randy Redd star in "Midsummer"
Their subsequent fling through the city is bankrolled by the illicit money expected by the mob boss but, like adolescent profligates, they decide to spend it all, check into a posh hotel, fill up their cart at the liquor store with pricey libations, party with teen Goths who introduce them to a club where they get entangled (literally) with a Japanese rope bonding master. There’s even a chase scene in which Bob is pursued by the mob boss enflamed by the loss of his money and intent on homicide.
Narelle Sissons’ sparse set is adequate enough to serve as the couple’s love nest yet indistinct enough to allow the various locales of the couple’s many weekend adventures to be created in the imagination rather than physically onstage. As the director, if Tracy Brigden can claim credit for conceiving the ingenious way the couple’s sex scene is staged, she deserves a big pat on the back for its over-the-top ( and comic) creativity. Ditto for Grieg’s inventive dialogue that has Bob carrying on a conversation with his private parts.
    With what’s left emotionally and physically after their binge weekend, you’d think that both Helena and Bob would experience emotional burn out. He’d be left with no money and a desperate situation, she’d come to her senses and resume her career thus ending their extemporaneous relationship.
    But, like in Shakespeare’s Midsummer prototype, there’s magic floating through the air, and the playwright throws a handful of pixie dust on an ending you might not have seen coming.
    "Midsummer (A Play with Songs)" is at the City Theatre through May 31. Phone 412-431-2489 or

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