Playwright Clare Barron, a New York theater artist with a fast-rising reputation for crafting quirky comedy-dramas with the ring of truth and an affection for damaged people, is finally getting her shot in the North Bay, where Left Edge Theater has just opened the West Coast premiere of her oddball play ‘You Got Older.’
Skillfully directed by Argo Thompson, ‘You Got Older’ follows a struggling, twenty-something lawyer named Rae, who’s recently lost her job, her apartment, her boyfriend, and her self-esteem, at the very same moment that her father is diagnosed with a mysterious, possibly fatal throat cancer. She’s also got a truly terrible-sounding rash.
Rae is played with meticulous sensitivity by Paige Picard, a first-rate performance in a play full of them, and Joe Winkler, as Rae’s kind but befuddled father, is frequently astonishing, particularly so in a key scene at the end where his steady bravado suddenly crumbles.
Barron’s writerly kookiness manifests itself mainly through the stunningly candid dialogue between her characters. The awkward but believable way that Rae converses with Mac, a rash-loving stranger she meets in a bar. He’s played nicely by Jared Wright. There’s sexy-but-menacing Cowboy (played by Chris Ginesi) who Rae conjures up in a series of increasingly disturbing sex fantasies. Then there’s the way Rae makes wobbly plans for the future with her loving, easily distracted siblings, all while waiting at the hospital bedside of their post-surgery dad. The convincingly familiar siblings are played by Sandra Ish, Devin McConeell, Victoria Saitz, all good, though the apparently twenty year spread in ages seems a bit unrealistic, given other details of the script putting them closer together than that.
That one weirdness aside, there is a palpable honesty and “realness” to the story that sneaks up on you, and delivers a surprising impact. As hinted in the title, You Got Older is actually a play about growing up, about the ways that facing our losses, disappointments and the eccentric irritations of life, in time make us all older – and sometimes, a little wiser, too.
Meanwhile, 6th Street Playhouse’s Buyer & Cellar, which also opened last weekend, is a one-actor exploration of the affluent eccentricities of singer-actor Barbra Streisand. Written by Jonathan Tolins, directed with energetic simplicity by Sarah Muirhead, Buyer & Cellar takes a well-documented fact about Streisand—that she built a miniature shopping mall in her cellar to hold the costumes and kitsch acquired over the years—and uses it to launch a flight of fancy about an unemployed actor named Alex who is hired as a make-believe storekeeper in Bab’s bizarre basement playground.
The enjoyable, joke-packed script contains a truly effective play-ending twist, but its insights into Streisand’s psyche mostly tend toward the obvious—her mother never told her she was pretty, she grew up in poverty so she now likes to flaunt her wealth. And the story itself, while definitely funny and affectionate, sometimes strains for purpose and relevance.
It doesn’t matter.
The real reason to see Buyer & Cellar is Patrick Varner’s outstanding performance as Alex. Jaw-droppingly good, Varner’s inventive characterizations and clear emotional arc carry this kooky comedy along on a wave of energy and sweetness, with only occasional lapses of momentum.
Taken together, both new shows show extraordinary humanity and compassion for their messy, identifiable characters, and at a time when its sometimes hard to recognize the commonalities between us, a bit if humanity and compassion are exactly what the world needs more of.
‘You Got Older’ runs Friday–Sunday, through Feb. 3 – Feb. 19 at Left Edge Theater, www.leftedgetheater.com. ‘Buyer & Cellar’ runs Thursday–Sunday through Feb. 19 at 6th Street Playhouse. www.6thstreetplayhouse.com