Michael Gotch has written a smart, imaginative, topical, moving, droll, and thoroughly entertaining play. Direction and acting are first rate despite ZOOM issues. Treat yourself.
Young married couple Sam/Samantha and Nick have recently moved to a tiny house he designed off the grid, in the mountains. They have their reasons. It’s the July 4th Weekend. After two years of alienation, Sam’s ex-Playboy-Club- bunny-who-married-rich mom Billie (Elizabeth Heflin) is coming to visit, bringing her companion, Sam’s Uncle Larry (Lee E. Ernst).
Sam is anxious, sure her judgmental mom will condemn the couple’s choices. Additionally, she’s had a miscarriage and doesn’t trust her mother’s palliative care. Nick is as calm and reassuring as humanly possible. He’s invited their neighbors, perhaps to serve as buffers.
Sara Bues and Denver Milord play off each other well. Sam and Nick are not on the same emotional page when we meet, but connection and common experience are apparent. Still dealing with trauma, she’s less capable of socializing while her husband’s a natural host. (Bues almost pouts, however- a thin line.) Milord has a fine sense of timing and subtlety of expression. Small moments are captured. Both characters effectively have battles royale with Billie. Director Mark Lamos skillfully creates two different forms of attack and parry for very different basis of disagreement.
Suddenly, (uninvited) neighbor Bernard appears dressed in full commando regalia. Gossip has it he used to be CIA. Dangling a carcass, Bernard offers to share his kill (yech), then asks whether the couple is keeping up with current events. “Sources reveal multiple flashpoints worldwide. Zero hour is approaching. Situational awareness is key,” he warns ominously. Nick handles him well.
Hassan E-Amin gives Bernard just the right exceptionally serious, need-to-know-basis demeanor. He’s rigid, alert, and palpably ready. Economic speech is spot-lit by start/stop phrasing. A real presence.
Billie and Larry arrive. “Incoming,” Nick says. “It’s Brigadoon in pine chips,” Sam’s thin, stylish, urban mother comments in the same breath as noting she’s wearing the wrong shoes. Larry, on the other hand, turns out to be a nature enthusiast. He’s dressed like a 1960s camp counselor and knows the Latin names of everything. Catch-up conversation indicates Sam has quit her job and will blog from the house. Unless I missed it, we oddly don’t know what Nick does. A home tour ensues. The group is scrunched together together against a wall to show the solar, eco-friendly, 100% recycled structure’s diminutive size. They have only to turn to see each “room.”
Some actors actually seem to share a space, others are digitally manipulated to seem as if they do. The difference between two of Sam and Nick’s hugs is striking. One shows another actor’s arms around her seen only from below the waist; another appears to be a figures in a full on embrace. This puzzles me. Most often the actors look in the right direction, but sometimes when several faux-share a space, scale is off. None of this is blatant enough to detract.
Billie is habitually bitter, critical, impatient, accustomed to the best and something of a snob. This is clear from Elizabeth Heflin’s manner. The actress can draw blood with a zinger. She also manages to imply a soft underbelly exposed later in the play. Fiery views erupt; pain and regret are unmistakable.
Invited neighbors Carol and her husband Win are preceded by the sound of a madrigal they’re singing. The boomer hippies arrive elaborately costumed as Henry VIII and, is it Lady Jane? Having once worked the Renaissance Fair circuit, they even speak Medieval. Carol has brought a gluten free, dairy free, chocolate cardamom torte. They’re theatrical, perceptive, literate, sweet souls.
Another perfect match. It’s as if these actors have been affectionately bantering for fifty years. Kathleen Price Tague and Stephen Pelinski fluently slide in and out of Shakespeare (and Elvish), imbue their stage time with warmth, fun, and grounded sensitivity; both recognizably listen and process. Physicality is charming.
Larry has an unexpectedly blissful, thoroughly uninhibited afternoon. Lee E. Ernst is a find! From the moment he waxes poetic about snakes to Buster-Keatonesque searching for the car keys through the gleeful impetus to strip down and jump in a waterfall, the actor spreads infectious joy. Nor is so called normalcy less credible.
Sam and Billie go at one another as can only a mother and daughter who’ve suffered the same tragedy separately. They share an extremely topical, hidden history leaving both maimed. Bernard shows up with another portentous injunction to prepare. Oh, and there are holiday fireworks.
Bernard and the hippies are inspired. Evolution of events reveals several surprises. The piece is recognizably current and affecting. Humor holds hands with possible disaster.
The reliable Mark Lamos (Director) crafts inspired manifestations of Bernard and the hippies, but those less obviously colorful characters hold their own in multi-dimensional portrayal. Interaction under green screen handicap is mostly deft. One feels like a fly on the wall – in the best possible sense.
Tricia Barsamian’s Costume Design epitomizes every character.
Westport Country Playhouse presents
Tiny House by Michael Gotch
Directed by Mark Ramos
Director of Photography Lacey Erb
Digital Scenic Design- Charlie Cochran
Music & Sound Design- Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen
STREAMING JUNE 29- JULY 18