Review: ‘Before We’re Gone’ Tackles Big Themes at 13th Street Repertory Theatre
By Diana Mott, Contributing Writer, August 6, 2018
Before We’re Gone ended it’s run at 13th Street Repertory Theatre on August 5 with hopes of moving uptown and, with caveats, it deserves another chance to be seen. It is a small play, made for a small stage in spite of the fact that it tries to address really big themes: black-listing, terminal illness, assisted suicide, religion, the consequences of the choices we make in life, and the possibility of love between two very unlikely people. Director Joe John Battista’s steady hand makes a small stage plenty big enough.
After a brief throwaway scene, the play really begins in a room at The Mapes Hotel in Reno when Kate Maguire (Leenya Rideout), in a slip and kimono, opens her door for the air conditioning repairman. She is a sophisticated, black-listed playwright in 1956, waiting out her 6 week divorce. Rich (John Zdrojeski) is a 20 year old Catholic novitiate on a time out, working at the hotel while he considers whether to enter the priesthood. Aside from Kate’s drop dead sexiness and intelligence, Rich is entralled to find out that she is an accomplished playwright because, of course, he has a play he’d like her to read. But to its credit, this play isn’t a simple rube-meets-femme-fatale-and-falls-hopelessly-in-love kind of story. Rich is fresh-faced and honest, but has integrity and genuine heart-felt conflicts about religion, the priesthood, and his sexuality that add depth and complexity to his character. By the same token, Kate reveals herself to be more than her boozy, chain-smoking, “god I am stuck in this one-horse town because it’s the only way I can get out of my lousy marriage” routine. Thanks to the strength of the two leading actors, a real chemistry develops as they try to sort out their feelings about each other and perhaps more importantly, about themselves.
The second act fast forwards 25 years to another motel room near the beach in Santa Barbara. Kathleen has brain cancer and is about to commit suicide “while I still have some of my brain left, some dignity,” when Rich turns up at her door. He thwarts her plans for a few hours and they both divulge the significance their encounter in Reno had for each of them. There are small, poignant revelations that make the inevitable ending feel believable after many plot contivances.
A fine Jay Russell and Emily Juliette Murphy play multiple characters who provide a little backstory though some of these scenes were distracting, especially the vignette between Kate and her soon to be ex-husband and between Rich and his father. These nemeses to the principals felt stereotypical and cardboard-thin.
The set design by Brian Dudkiewicz was simple and serviceable though I thought the hotel room of a famous playwright at The Mapes would be more glamorous. Costumes (Martha Bromelmeier) were spot on.
Ultimately, the idea of a chance encounter between two very different people, separated by age, experience, and outlook is compelling. I, for one, think this little play deserves a second chance.
Before We’re Gone presented by BAHR Production at The 13th Street Repertory Theatre, 50 West 13th Street, playing July 5 through August 5, 2018. By Jerry Small. Directed by Joe John Battista; set design by Brian Dudkiewicz; costume design by Martha Bromelmeier; lighting/sound design by Allison Hohman.
Cast: Leenya Rideout, John Zdrojeski, Jay Russell, and Emily Juliette Murphy.
Cover: (l. to r.) Leenya Rideout and John Zdrojeski in ‘Before We’re Gone;’ photo: John Phelps.