“Without Whom” begins with a strong premise and comes to a moving end, but the journey between the two is somewhat flat and a little awkward at times.
The script by R.J. Downes has famously egotistical author Ray Monarch, played quite suitably and with consistency by John A. Geddes, bickering with his wife Maggie (portrayed by Cindy Chappell) about which of them is dead, and who must come to terms with what in order for them both to move on. There to assist them, and the audience, in sorting out what exactly has transpired and what needs to happen next are two younger counterparts, Harlan and Susan, played by Daniel Pauley and Jennifer Verardi. Verardi admirably attempts to bring some depth and nuance to her character, while Pauley often appears uncomfortable. Both parts are challenging, written and presented with ambiguity, and it seems as though the actors might benefit from greater clarity of their purpose within the context of the overall piece. Of all the cast, Chappell has the most to offer in Maggie’s moments of poignancy and pain.
There are several twists to the plot – some intriguing and offering clever reveals, while others muddy the waters. Although difficult to pinpoint any overwhelming flaw, there are structural improvements to the arc of the story and its telling that could be made. Identifying and tying together the central dilemma and its resolution as a primary thread would provide a clear climax for the performers to build towards and the audience to follow along, while still leaving ample room for surprises, subplots, and secondary themes to be explored. As staged here by director Mae Whalen, the production offers some charm and sincerity, but lacks the shape and energy to engage or excite – and given the oft-stated volatility of the relationship on display, coupled with the dramatic stakes of their current predicament, I can’t help but feel that there were higher highs and lower lows left on the table.
“Without Whom” offers a genuine exploration of what can make or break the partnership of a marriage between a dreamer and a realist, but this performance itself lacked the passion that it demonstrates is necessary in order to make such a collaboration work.
“Without Whom” continues its run in Venue #2 of The Storefront Fringe Festival…