There is no doubt that Park Square’s latest production, the American Premiere of Henry & Alice: Into the Wild, by Canadian playwright Michele Riml, is a good time. Performed in the coziness of the Andy Boss Thrust Stage, the three hander is the sequel to Sexy Laundry which was produced at PST back in 2014. If you happened to catch that, then you’re probably familiar with middle aged couple, Henry and Alice, and their quirky but ultimately loving relationship. Park Square perennials, John Middleton and Carolyn Pool, tackle the main characters with confidence and gusto, while Melanie Wehrmacher provides some serious sass and earthiness to the character of Alice’s sister Diana, who’s apparently celebrated her 45th birthday more than...three times at least? (I’m not buying it, that gal doesn’t look a day over 35).
At first I was just enjoying some goofy well delivered banter, having no idea what to expect really from the show. Soon I found out why I was there, to watch the heartbreaking struggle of a middle aged man, who’s lost his job (and therefore his identity), try desperately to find his purpose, his niche, his pride, again. Having lived comfortably in his paternal role as “breadwinner,” “responsible husband,” and “dad ATM,” he has settled into his upper-middle-class-”ness” happily, and without much concern, until...the (Pottery Barn) rug is pulled out from underneath him. Now, who is he? How will he bankroll the shopping (speaking of Pottery Barn); The romantic trips to the cottage? His daughters’ college tuition? His son’s weed habit? How does someone start over when they’re a year or two from retirement, pension, and Caribbean cruises with their beloved and dependent spouse?
This is actually a really big question. I think about people who have played by the “rules” and lived their lives “right” and “by the book” only to have their homes destroyed by natural disasters, their savings and IRA’s laundered, their jobs eliminated by cut backs and downsizing...How does someone, heading towards their Golden Years, cope with starting from scratch? It doesn’t seem fair. It’s not fair! It hurts, and it’s tough to watch.
As Henry is dealing with the shock and dismay of this sudden happenstance, Alice is likewise pondering her own worth, having given up her career to be a stay at home mom. She feels guilty for her lack of monetary contribution while maintaining that being a mom is as tough a job as any! Throw the free spirited, biker chic, newly tattooed, sister into the mix, and it’s a recipe for resentment, jealousy, guilt, and straight up fear of the future. Yet, there are sight gags, and peals of deserved laughter. I had mixed feelings about this.
The technical aspects are very well done. Lighting designer, Michael P. Kittel, does yeoman service creating the realistic shadows outside in the dimly lit campsite compared to just enough “flash”-light within the tent to illuminate the actors in a rustic and authentic glow. Similarly the sound, designed by Jacob M. Davis, smoothly transitions from scene change accompaniment music to blending into the current scene, often as annoying classic rock music, streaming from the next door trailer. It happens seamlessly and really adds to the campsite ambiance. If I had any issue, I’ll say that there is some actual ax swinging/ax holding/ax shaking downstage left, that made me very nervous for the front row of the audience on that side of the house. I appreciate the authenticity and trust the professionalism of Ms. Pool, BUT I did physically cringe a couple of times and maybe covered my face. Also, I was seated house left and was unfortunately directly behind the picnic table, which meant I often missed one side of the conversation and sometimes in very poignant and sentimental moments.
The play itself is funny, well executed, and downright campy (see what I did there?). It’s wonderful and important to note another example of a female playwright and director combo as well! I had an enjoyable evening, I guess my conundrum is that the subject matter is serious and I’m not sure I was okay laughing at the goofy moments that were made, sometimes at the expense of the realistic, scarier bigger picture . I appreciate Park Square challenging their audiences to think about real world problems. This play toes the line between realism and farce and I have yet to decide which was the most successful. I applaud trying to meld the two genres, I’m just not sure it always worked for me.