by Ron Cohen · May 4, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #89 Ron Cohen looks at 17 Orchard Point at the Beckett Theatre until May 24.
Watching the new comedy drama 17 Orchard Point, I couldn’t help but imagine the co-authors, Anton Dudley and Stephanie DiMaggio, huddled at the computer, gleefully trying to outdo each other by thinking up new revelations for their play’s two characters to reveal. Such a scene may never have taken place between the two writers, of course, but their script comes across like a patchwork of plot turns -- some more intriguing than others -- that never come together to make a totally credible design.
Their story involves a mother and daughter whose relationship has been strained but tolerable. Daughter Vera is a dowdy 30-year-old, living a fairly reclusive life, managing the apartment building owned by her widowed mother, Lydia, in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. (The play’s title is the building’s address, and John McDermott’s set shows us Vera’s apartment in telling detail.) Lydia abandoned Cleveland years ago to live a more adventuresome life in Las Vegas.
As the play begins, Lydia has just returned to Cleveland to attend the baby shower being thrown by Vera for her younger sister Anna, who is expecting twins. In contrast to Vera’s plainness, the 52-year-old Lydia sports a brightly colored hairdo and a shapely figure in stylish but flashy Las Vegas fashion, helped, as she tells us, by a $100 bra.
Lydia also seems to have a wisecrack for every situation, especially as she tries to doll up Vera for the party. Vera and Lydia, however, haven’t seen each other for three years since Anna’s wedding, and there’s an obvious tension between them, especially on Vera’s part. She seems to be concerned about something else. Could it be the two christening gowns she hid away quickly just before Lydia came bounding into the apartment? You bet, and a lot more will come to the fore before the play is over.
First off -- and this may be a spoiler, but it happens fairly early in the proceedings -- no baby shower is about to happen. It was actually held two weeks earlier and Lydia wasn’t invited because of the way she acted at Anna’s wedding. (Exactly how, we’re never told; it‘s one of the several loose threads in the play’s jumbled dramaturgy. However, as Lydia happily drags out the vodka and bourbon from her luggage, we can assume it had something to do with her drinking.)
This no-party revelation, of course, leads to others, and the outpouring of questions, current news and family secrets is almost stifling. The atmosphere becomes even thicker when mother and daughter embark on a somewhat confusing variation of the game Truth or Dare. They’re going to play Truth and each time one of them tells something true she has to drink. The loser will be the one who vomits first. Unfortunately, the game comes across as a mechanical plot device rather than something springing from the characters. Vera is the one who initiates it, even after she lets it be known how much she detests drinking and being drunk.
The authors have written two potentially interesting women, and in the production directed by Stella Powell-Jones they piqued my interest until the one-dimensional nature of their personas became clear. Co-writer DiMaggio plays Vera, imbuing her with a vulnerability and innate melancholy that’s affecting at the start, but this mood hardly shifts, even as she keeps learning all sorts of upsetting things. Michelle Pawk takes on Lydia with an unforced gusto and infectious vivacity that for awhile makes for quite an entertaining turn, but the script eventually fails her as well, giving her good-time girl little variety to dig into, except for escalating drunkenness.
17 Orchard Point also has a provocative kernel of a story, especially as economics enter the relationship between Vera and Lydia, but it gets lost in the maze of other narrative turns. During the show’s 85 minutes or so, getting through that maze succeeded more in tiring me out rather than engaging me.