People hide things. We bury our sins, secrets and hidden thoughts down deep, or we simply disguise them behind a mask of pretense. Theater is the ultimate exercise in pretense as art, and in two first-rate plays, those secrets are uncovered in very different ways.
Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt), now running at Main Stage West, features strong performances from a well-matched cast of four, with fine, frisky direction by David Lear. In rural Ireland, two awkward neighbors—having rarely spoken despite having lived their whole lives on adjoining farms—are suddenly forced to take very bumpy steps toward cordiality, friendship and possibly love, spurred along, more or less, by their crotchety elderly parents.
As the central pair, Rosemary and Anthony, Sharia Pierce and Jereme Anglin are thoroughly charming and ferociously odd, blending humor and heartache as smoothly as Guinness flows from a tap. Each carries a weighty secret that has held them in place for years, the unfolding of which carries a touch of Irish magic.
As Tony, Anthony’s crustily fuming father, Clark Miller is wonderful, a gentle heart buried beneath a roguish snarl. As Aoife, Rosemary’s recently widowed mother, Elly Lichenstein gives one of the sweetest and loveliest, most relaxed and engaging performances of her career.
About the story, the less said, the better. The biggest surprise is in how deeply it reaches into one’s emotions, like a good Irish ballad, and how much fun it has doing it.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★½
In Frederick Knott’s classic thriller Wait Until Dark, Spreckels Theatre Company tackles a nail-biter of a story made famous by the 1967 Audrey Hepburn film. Directed by David Yen, this intimate staging of the clever mystery-drama features a vulnerable, increasingly fierce performance by Denise Elia-Yen as a terrified blind woman holding her own against a trio of criminals (Nicolas Christenson, Chris Schloemp and Erik Weiss) dead set on retrieving a stolen stash of drugs they believe she’s hidden in her Greenwich Village apartment.
A few technical issues aside, with some bumpy pacing late in the show, the cast and crew nevertheless deliver, giving audiences a thoroughly riveting, fully entertaining thrill ride from darkness into full, satisfying light. ★★★★