Two Acts--Two Dynamics--One Show
Soulstice Theatre's ROCKET MAN
Playwright Steven Dietz opens Rocketman at a couple of very uncomfortable points in the life of its protagonist. As the play opens, the reluctant landscape architect is getting rid of everything he owns. His wife has left him for a guy named Kale. His daughter is sixteen years old. She will be cutting herself out of his life in a matter of time. Everything is falling apart. And Soulstice Theatre will be rendering his story on the stage of the Keith Tamsett Theatre this month.
Greg Ryan plays Donny--the landscape architect in question. The first half of the play takes place in the circumstances outlines above. The second half of the play surmises a world where lifetimes work in reverse--where people start off elderly and grow young until . . . presumably some surgical operation puts them into the mother they've chosen. (The specifics of this aren't explored in detail . . . it's really more of an abstract thing. Going from death to birth is kind of an interesting idea that the script only explores in relationship to the characters. . . but in both scenarios, Greg Ryan brings across the character as being a man who is carrying around a kind of deep emotional exhaustion about him. It's a sympathetic portrayal of the man. Ryan makes the character deeply likable even when he's being kind of a jerk, but the overall exhaustion of the character . . . the overall stiffness of a man who is at the end of two different journeys in two different scenarios . . . it lack the kind of depth that would've made for a truly brilliant performance.
Dale Jackson is a huge amount of fun as Donny's friend Buck. Jackson has a strikingly clever grasp of the comedy Steven Dietz has written into the script. Buck gives the initial introduction of the character of Buck a kind of a comic grounding. We are introduced to this landscape architect who has placed all his worldly possessions on his front lawn and suggested that anyone make an offer on his life. Not a man in the most presentable psychological position . . . but many of his initial interactions happen with Buck, who says some very funny things that seem ambivalent on the surface, but actually reveal a true concern for Donny. Jackson delivers that sense of comedy remarkably well.
Ashley Retzlaff plays Donny's 16 year old daughter Trisha. Hers is one of the more dramatic transformations from one side of intermission to the other. In the first Act, we're seeing a daughter who is a typical teenager dealing with a father who seems to be losing his mind. We don't see ver much of her here, but there is enough to contrast against in the parallel universe of the second act. Here, Retzlaff does a remarkable job of negotiating the intricacies of a 16 year-old who knows that she is join go cease to be in 16 years due to the reverse lives lived in the parallel dimension. As a result of being only sixteen, she has lived that much longer than everyone else in the cast, so she has a sense of wisdom about her without betraying the traditional demeanor of a 16 year old girl. It's a really difficult balance and Retzlaff does a really good job of balancing wisdom against youth. It's a very clever performance.
For her part, Kelly Coffey has a pretty dramatic contrast from first to second acts as well. In the first half, she's the estranged wife of Donny who has been dealing with his personality issues (which just may include a kind of schizophrenia) for years and simply cannot handle it anymore. She's bitter and she's angry and we feel that. It is to Coffey's credit that her bitterness and apathy for Donny come across as being at all sympathetic. In the second act, she's quite patient with Donny and running a coffeehouse out of their home. Things aren't quite rosy between the two of them, though. There's a tension between her and Donny that has to do with his general state of fatigue about things that seems kind of universal to his character. After seeing Coffey resonate through such bitterness in the first act, it's nice to see her being happy onstage . . . making the inevitable outcome feel all the more tragic.
Beverly Sargent rounds out the cast as Donny's co-worker Louse. She's enjoyably confrontational as someone who speaks her mind--a sounding board for a few of the others in the cast who are dealing with various issues.
Though well-written the script is deliberately unsatisfying in places. We see that even in a situation where a generally bad state of affairs is reversed, things can still be pretty miserable. That this doesn't come across as being at all depressing probably owes a lot to the vision that Director Alan Piotrowicz is able to bring to the stage.
Soulstice Theatre's production of Rocket Man runs through September 22nd at the Keith Tamsett Theatre. For ticket reservations, visit Soulstice Theatre online.