What happens in middle age and beyond — to bodies, to marriages, to friendships — is the subject of Susan J. Westfall’s Two Weekends and a Day, a play now getting its New Theatre world premiere at the South Miani-Dade Cultural Arts Center. It is also the first show in the company’s 30th anniversary season, a season that will bring back several playwrights who, like Westfall, have had their work done by New Theatre before.
As its title suggests, the play unfolds over two weekends (one a Labor Day weekend at a beach house, the other at a cabin in the woods two and a half years earlier) and a day (the Memorial Day eight months after that eventful Labor Day). Moving back and forth in time, the script focuses on two couples who have been friends since college.
Melinda (Barbara Sloan), who runs her family’s foundation, has been married to middle school teacher Jonathan (R. Kent Wilson) for what feels like forever. At least, that’s how she’s feeling.
Distant and jittery, she’s preparing to welcome their professor friend Billy (Clinton Archambault) to the beach house for his traditional Labor Day weekend visit — only this time, he’s a widower. His wife Gina (Evelyn Perez), an architect who designed both couples’ homes, has died from the cancer she fought to vanquish once, then twice, before her luck ran out. Billy has rebounded into the arms of a younger woman, a chef and entrepreneur named Rebecca (Susie Kreitman Taylor), and she’s coming along. Melinda, for reasons that quickly become clear, isn’t at all happy about Billy’s new squeeze.
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Under the guidance of artistic director Ricky J. Martinez, Two Weekends and a Day tells its story clearly as it swings from weekend to weekend, then at last to that day of resolution.
Westfall has much to say about marital restlessness and recklessness, about how living out an enduring fantasy can feel so exhilarating in the moment, then engender such guilt or regret or longing afterwards. She’s observant in her writing about how mature adults forge new relationships (Match.com, anyone?), deal with health crises and body issues, and slowly recover from loss.
As with many first productions of new work, the script could benefit from some trimming and revision. Though the program notes that the play’s running time is an hour and a half, it’s actually a full hour longer than that, and it doesn’t need to be. Though Westfall largely does a good job of weaving her thematic material and background information into the dialogue, a speech about aging Baby Boomers and another about how the tradition of the Labor Day stick out as plot points.
The flashback scenes, in which flying-phobic Melinda has made it out for a visit with Gina and Billy, are less credible than the ones at Melinda and Billy’s beach house. Allegedly ready to comfort her friend, Melinda proves the needy one, and on more than one occasion, Gina (these are best friends, remember) calls her a “bossy bitch.” She also flashes Melinda, demanding, “Look at me!” Suspicious Melinda heaps scorn on the alternative therapy Dr. Julia Bishop (Kim Ostrenko) is trying with Gina, yet she ends up supporting the treatment with money from her foundation.
The play’s design elements — Stephen E. Davis’ two-house set, Eric Nelson’s lighting, Peter A. Lovello’s costumes, Anton Church’s original music and sound, which includes the delicate rustle of wind chimes — differentiate place and time, and establish class.
The work by the cast varies, though most of the performances effectively bring these new characters to life. Though Sloan must play an unhappy woman who treats her husband badly and acts out inappropriately, the magnetic performer always makes Melinda intriguing to watch. Archambault’s Billy is, as described, a “catch.” Wilson is still struggling with some of Jonathan’s lines, but he radiates both damage and strength. The versatile Ostrenko portrays both the aggressive, dangerous Dr. Bishop and beach house neighbor Lucy, a gal who has her eye on Jonathan (though her story is a bit too conveniently parallel to Rebecca’s). Taylor is convincing and appealing as the frustrated odd woman out among longtime pals. Perez, however, is hard to buy as a cancer patient, Billy’s spouse or Melinda’s best pal (some of the fault lies in the character as she’s constructed, some in Perez’s less-than-convincing acting).
That New Theatre is celebrating its 30th with mostly new plays (plus the classic Death of a Salesman) is in keeping with the company’s history, which includes plenty of impressive work, most notably the world premiere of Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna in the Tropics. Two Weekends and a Day isn’t at that best-of level, but it will certainly resonate with audience members of a certain age.
If you go
What: World premiere of ‘Two Weekends and a Day’ by Susan J. Westfall.
Where: New Theatre production at South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St., Cutler Bay.
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday, 3:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday (no matinee Dec. 12, no evening show Dec. 13), through Dec. 13.
Cost: $26 in advance, $31 at the door.
Information: 786-573-5300 or visit www.smdcac.org.