Gloriously happy families aren’t as common as movies and television shows would have it. Most folks live in a shades-of-gray real world, one that comes with problems and complicated relationships. That’s the terrain David Caudle explores in his play Visiting Hours.
After a world premiere two years ago in New Orleans, Caudle’s set-in-Coral Gables drama is getting its South Florida debut. New Theatre, now presenting its work in the Lab Theater at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, earlier premiered the Miami-raised Caudle’s In Development, Likeness and The Sunken Living Room. Visiting Hours launches New Theatre’s stay in Cutler Bay, the company’s fifth home base since its founding in 1986.
Resonant yet deliberately slow to reveal its secrets, Visiting Hours centers on a devoted lesbian couple, Marian (Barbara Sloan) and Beth (Madelin Marchant). The two are living in a small garage apartment owned by Nat (Kitt Marsh), their friend and benefactor, an older lesbian with a fondness for gin and tonics. The reason for the couple’s diminished financial circumstances soon resurfaces: Paul (Alex Alvarez), Marian’s 30-year-old son, has been arrested on charges of aggravated assault and needs bail money.
Parents with a troubled “kid” will relate to Caudle’s drama, painfully so. Paul and his newest acquisition, a troubled young homeless woman named Shelly (Maria Corina Ramirez), change their stories more often than they change their backpack-rumpled clothing. The fissures in Marian and Beth’s relationship grow ever deeper as the younger couple keeps piling on the lies and Marian the enabler keeps making excuses for her son.
Directed by Margaret M. Ledford, Visiting Hours plays out in a cramped apartment that is as ugly as Marian and Beth’s ongoing exploitation by Paul (Alyiece Moretto designed the odd set). The acting is strong, though on opening night some lines were blown or forgotten. Too, one more clarifying rewrite wouldn’t hurt Visiting Hours. The facts and history contained in the plot are sometimes more confusing than revelatory.
Sloan and Marchant are convincing and compelling as the couple who are deeply bonded despite their differences (Marian, for instance, finds solace in faith, but Beth is a skeptic), and they make you believe that the final test of the relationship could play out either way. Marsh is lascivious as Nat comes on to the much younger Shelly, amusing and sad as she grows ever more inebriated, poignant in her expression of loneliness.
But it’s Alvarez and Ramirez as the sneaky, raging young couple who prove both fascinating and frightening. Both of the younger actors walk the sociopath’s tightrope, radiating reason (Alvarez) and kookiness (Ramirez) until their masks fall away, and it becomes clear that no amount of a parent’s redemptive love is going to make any difference in their exploitative cruelty. And in its waning moments, Visiting Hours becomes a study in hard-wired familial dysfunction.