The Good, the Bad, and the Boring in Theater and Other Creative Arts Around and About Hampton Roads, VA.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wanderlust at The Generic Theater....

About Hampton Roads, for Hampton Roads
A Nice Place To Be Sexually Frustrated

There’s fun to be had at the expense of...well, us, the sexually frustrated under-achievers of Hampton Roads, in a new play which opened to a full house last night, June 17, at the Generic Theater, down in the bowels of Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall.

Wanderlust, by local writers Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran, is the opening show in the Generic’s annual New Plays for Dog Days Festival. It’s also the third production in Norfolk’s Summer Play Fest of new works, in cooperation with The Venue and the Little Theater of Norfolk.

The 90-minute play (without intermission) comes with warnings about mature adult content. But there’s really nothing in the show that would shock anyone over fourteen, unless it’s the underlying theme of futility when it comes to negotiating a mutually satisfying sexual relationship.

We have the wife of a well-liked local TV reporter who won’t have sex with him but is paying to have it with her old high school boy friend.

The boy friend, for his part—a heavy-drinking musician—doesn’t even recognize the waitress/singer-songwriter he met at his music gig the night before when she comes to his apartment for the date he’d made with her.

The singer-songwriter, determined to salvage something of the night, then takes a sailor home with her, which quickly leads to some rough sex which gets her pregnant after which the sailor is charged with a DUI while driving her car.

Now the committed heterosexual sailor, if he wants to get his DUI charges dropped, must submit to the homosexual advances of his prominent, well-connected attorney.

But the gay lawyer is in the closet, married and coldly indifferent to his wife’s torrid mating calls to make her pregnant before her biological clock runs down.

At the same time the wife, a realtor, hoping to close the deal on a house the well-liked local TV reporter and his unfaithful wife are interested in, loses her moral compass in the mutual sexual attraction growing between them. As does he. When he impulsively asks if he can see her sometime—outside of real estate—she says yes.

And that “yes” is the last word, putting the finishing twist on this tangled web of relationships among the twenty-to-thirty-something set, and it’s the only one that has promise, ending the evening on a slightly hopeful note. Never mind that the newscaster and the realtor are both married to someone else. Divorce is worth the hassle when two people meet who both like living in Hampton Roads.

Jokes about our region, in fact, are liberally sprinkled throughout the script.

“Local news is evolution in reverse,” says Melissa, wife of TV reporter Tony.

“What other place in the whole world would build a mountain out of trash?” Tony asks Theresa, his realtor and probable second wife.

Meredith, the aspiring singer-songwriter, is proud that she escaped her origins in “a trailer park in Broadwater, Virginia, and made it all the way to Norfolk.”

Melissa calls Hampton Roads a stepping stone to a bigger place. Jonah believes he’s a failure as a musician because he’s playing in Norfolk, not New York, which, in any case, he hated. Meredith believes she needs to go to New York to find opportunity.

Dan, the gay lawyer and, if I heard right, a Regent graduate, has political aspirations that should easily lift him to higher ground. (Hard not to think of Bob McDonnell.) Luke, the sailor, doesn’t care where he is so long as there’s available pussy.

Only Tony, unhappily married to a wife whose ambition for him exceeds his own, and Theresa, equally unhappily married to a closeted gay Christian lawyer, share the same dream—to live in Hampton Roads and raise a family.

These interlocking stories are interestingly told in a series of seven vignettes set in a bedroom with its inviting double bed as the dominating focus. Whose bedroom it is changes from scene to scene, and smoothly at that, with a running crew efficiently dressing and redressing the set between episodes.

The scenes, meanwhile, fold neatly into one another, with one character from each scene appearing in the next in a relationship with a new character who proceeds in the next scene to a relationship with yet another new character. The technique gives a sense of the interconnecting social circles in Hampton Roads, where you never meet anyone who doesn’t know someone you know.

The three women characters are especially strong—Rachel Lang as Melissa, the unsatisfied wife; Nancy Dickerson as Meredith, the aspiring singer-songwriter, and Eileen Quintin as Theresa, the wannabe Mom.

The four men, while all competent in their roles, seem uniformly a little timid about inhabiting their characters fully—Joshua Gray as Tony, the newscaster; Matt Labarge as Joshua, the musician; Martin Hurst as Luke, the sailor, and Henry D’Alonzo as Dan, the gay lawyer. At times all of them are hard to hear, especially in their vulnerable moments of sensitivity.

Albers directs the production with his usual impeccable attention to detail—clean set, precise lighting, and incidental music between scenes (by local composer J.R. Flynn) that interestingly blends a sound both classical and experimental, comfortable and edgy.

So it is in Hampton Roads, “a procrastinator’s town,” as Tony and Theresa agree—not too fast, not too slow, “a great place to raise a family”—yet so few are content here, victims of a restless melancholy.

Despite Albers’ and McMurran’s key roles in creating material for the Pushers, an improv group known for spicy irreverence, in Wanderlust they get a little sentimental, offering, in the end, a rather gentle portrait of their hometown. (McMurran comes from Portsmouth, Albers’ family moved to Virginia Beach when he was seven.)

If only we could satisfy our insatiable lust, maybe we’d all be happy to stay.

Wanderlust continues at the Generic tonight, June 18, at 8, tomorrow at 2:30, and Thursday through Sunday next weekend, June 23-26. For more details, click here.

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