Lovely Confusion: MRS. WHITNEY

Deirdre Madigan, Photo by Meghan Moore

Mrs. Whitney by John Kolvenbach, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 3/15/12-4/8/12,

Reviewed by Kate Lonberg-Lew

(Lowell, MA) Unless you are lucky enough to have met your soulmate at fifteen and lived happily ever after (and if you have, please take a moment to pinch yourself and make sure you’re real) then you will relate to the feelings of loneliness, love and the existence of your own romantic Achilles heel in this superb production of Mrs. Whitney at the Merrimack Repertory Theater in Lowell.

Out of desperation, the lonely Mrs. Whitney (Deirdre Madigan) decides to look up her ex-husband and only true love, Tom (Dennis Parlato). Her friend, Francis, (Joel Colodner) tires to dissuade her, but to no avail. She goes to his house only to discover he has flown the coop. Instead, she finds his irate wife, Louisa Whitney (Rebecca Harris), who’s at her wits’ end. After the current Mrs. Whitney flies the coup, our heroine moves in convinced that she can win over both the detached college son (Jay Ben Markson) and her ex, once he chooses to return. Tom Whitney soon returns, as does Francis, and what follows is a comical series of events and Tom’s worst nightmare.

Playwright John Kolvenbach creates wonderful, well-rounded characters who are both flawed and nuanced. The witty, fast-paced dialogue has the audience looking back and forth between characters like fans at a tennis match.  If Kolvenbach sets out to teach us that we are doomed to loneliness, he misses his mark. Instead, through his humor and the charm of his characters we discover that love is worth the price of imperfection and that it can inspire us to become better people.

The script is aided by strong direction and a cast of professionals who have honed their craft. Madgian shines as a woman looking for her purpose. She portrays Mrs. Whitney’s desperation through pitch-perfect delivery, and she backs it up with quiet gestures and just barely-contained emotion. Parlato brings fabulous energy to stage, and uses it to create an aging drunk who is at once charming, selfish, and sympathetic. The audience moves with him as he squirms while trying to force himself into the shell of a better man. Markson’s bristly, guarded teen is spot on. His attitude is breached only by his boyish need for authentic connection.

Viewers will appreciate the simple complexity of the set. A modern, yet rustic house serves as the perfect backdrop, providing an air of realism without detracting attention from the actors. Changes to both props and set are fluid and unobtrusive.

This is a modern-day comedy seasoned liberally with the flavor of an old-fashioned sitcom that will have people of all ages laughing and learning about love.

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