Company: Pride Films & Plays
Venue: Rivendell Theatre
Die Roll: 5
There is something comfortable about a simple, straight-forward morality play. One can clearly tell who is the villain, who is the hero, where right and wrong reside within the tale. That is what Nancy Nyman’s and Heather McNama’s “Resolution” does under the direction of Diana Raiselis. The newest offering from Pride Films & Plays unfolds upon the Rivendell stage which has been beautifully transformed into a 1890s home by set designer Milo Bue.
Set in New York City in 1892, this show tells the tale of a happily married couple, Jack (Tiffany Mitchenor) and Hannah (Aneisa Hicks) on the eve of a new year. They’ve sent their staff home early in order to have a nice quiet evening in. Their housekeeper and her husband are the last to go, just after getting their end of the year bonus (an important plot point).
At first glance this play is set up for a good deal of inherent complication and complexity. The rich couple is black, in New York City, at a time when the black population in that metropolitan area was consolidating in Harlem. The house staff is represented by an Irish woman, Margaret O’Malley (Amber Snyder). The Irish at that time were often regarded as poorly as blacks by the majority of upper class white society. So, there is potential for exploring many racial and class issues. However, with the exception of one line tossed into the middle of a heated argument, racial issues don’t really come up. A second, earlier, more veiled reference to limited advancement opportunities within Jack’s professional field is also likely a comment on race, but it lands lightly and skitters on by so quickly that it carries little weight.
The real issue of this play is that the loving couple is made up of two women. One lives publicly as a man, so that they are not discovered and persecuted. But their world comes crumbling down when Margaret discovers their secret when she returns unannounced to retrieve her bonus envelope, which she mistakenly left behind. The housekeeper is driven by her self-righteousness to ruin the lives of the supposedly sinful people for whom she has cared over the previous three years. This is another place wherein the script could have explored an interestingly deep topic, that of a crisis of faith. Instead, this is where the play descends from the realm of drama into that of melodrama. Despite the determined efforts of Snyder, Margaret is a one-dimensional villain in this piece. She is filled with stereotypical Catholic beliefs of her day, and she is unchangeable in her stance, unable to even acknowledge or react to anything she hears opposing her own viewpoints.
So, the play throws complexity out the window in favor of making a statement. That’s fine. That’s what happens in all morality plays. But, the groundwork was laid for something far deeper, and it feels a bit of a shame that at least one additional aspect wasn’t explored.
The characters created by Mitchenor and Hicks are far more fully realized, and they are quite fun and enjoyable. A favorite scene is when they attempt to teach each other how to behave in case they’d ever have to swap their assumed roles. It is in this scene, and the immediately surrounding ones, that the script does a wonderful job of showing two people who love each other functioning within a fully realized marriage. It is a 100% “normal” marriage, and as far as slice-of-life scenes go, the action was believable and often humorous in that way that comes from watching common truths and empathizing with them.
Edward Fraim plays the show’s narrator and Margaret’s husband, Harrison. I’m going to assume that his surname is also O’Malley, seeing as his wife is often referred to as Mrs. O’Malley. Fraim isn’t on the stage as often as the others, but when he is, his energy imbues the whole performance with added life. Harrison is dedicated to two people whom he sees as being good, and valuable as people. He also knew about their secret life long before his wife did. He is caught in an awkward position between the two camps. His struggle seems most real of those upon the stage. His arguments ring most true, as does his defeat due to his sense of marital duty.
Sitting in the house at Rivendell, the play zips by and is enjoyable to take in. But, I do have to wonder if it is anything more than watching a comfortable, familiar parable. Not unlike watching a rerun of the 1960s version of Star Trek, we see a brief morality play in which everyone on the good side gets a happy ending, and in one briefly sharp moment of realization, the villain gets what’s coming to her.
It’s a show that feels surprisingly safe in addressing the topic of hatred, because it doesn’t go anywhere complicated or truly ugly. It stays on the surface and safe. Now, true, this wouldn’t necessarily be safe if it were put on in front of an audience of right-wing-aligned conservative evangelical Christians or Trump supporters. Yet, as you may guess, that’s not who attends shows put up by Pride Films & Plays. I’ll acknowledge that there are still people who could benefit from hearing the simple, didactic message of this show. They, however, were not sitting in the same theatre as I was on opening night. So, we all sat and agreed with the comfortable, reaffirming position taken by the work in front of us.
At the same time, the friendly audience wasn’t truly challenged in any way to understand the opposing viewpoint, either. I think that is where this play fell short. It isn’t a bad play. PFP doesn’t do bad plays. I say that without doubt. But, the playwrights missed a number of opportunities to make this a multi-layered, complex masterpiece.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: Don’t be like this one lady, says preacher to choir.
RATING: d10- “Worth Going To”