By JOHN BELLUSO
Urban Stages, 259 W. 30 St., NYC, January 25 through February 20, 2005
Directed by CARL FORSMAN
Stage Manager MICHELE TRAUB
Scenic Designer NATHAN HEVERIN
Costume Designer THERESA SQUIRE
Lighting Designer JOSH BRADFORD
Sound Designer STEFAN JACOBS
Press KAREN GRECO ENTERTAINMENT
Louise – Deirdre O’Connell
Harry – Christopher Thornton
John Belluso’s PYRETOWN has been revised for this off-Broadway premiere, and all indications are that the best parts remain. Originally a three-character play that balanced one plot about love against another about a conflicted doctor, this new version has pared down the parts to two central roles, incorporating the issue of the HMO so that it is wholly explored through the experiences of a divorced welfare mom and a young man confined to a wheelchair.
I never saw the previous incarnation of PYRETOWN, but based on this production, I feel the changes were merited. This play is a small tale in the sense that the events feel so real, they could be the kind of thing you hear about when catching up with a good friend. Louise (Lou) meets Harry at the local emergency room. One of her three children has an inner ear infection, and he becomes her confidant after trading places with her in the ER pecking order. They quickly become pals, with Harry encouraging Lou to enroll in classes at the community college he has been attending for years, as she in turn provides the companionship his life lacks.
The authenticity of PYRETOWN begins with John Belluso’s writing, but all elements of this Keen Company production aid in that perception. Actors Deirdre O’Connell and Christopher Thornton have just the right chemistry, blending sadness and even desperation with hope and chance. Under Carl Forsman’s measured direction, the action flows, even as we sometimes feel that the characters are trapped within a stagnant world. Adding to this feeling, the sets are sparse, and the lighting dark save for spotlights on the actors. All of these elements combine to form the impression that it is Lou and Harry against, if not the world, the battles they are facing.
As things go along, getting more serious, romantic aspects are added to the relationship, bringing the couple closer just as Lou’s youngest child becomes ill. Ill-equipped to navigate the HMO appeals process on her own, Lou finds herself at odds with Harry and his over-the-top reaction to a system that he blames for the death of his mother. Using this as a device to generate conflict in PYRETOWN, Belluso introduces the socio-economic reality of health care in the United States in a way that is not preachy, but rather a genuine obstacle. For, in the end, it is not so much the system as the way in which the economic reality of Lou and Harry’s lives that forces them to make choices that may run contrary to what their hearts desire.
PYRETOWN has been classified as a modern love story, and I suppose it is, but not in the way I think most folks envision a love story to unfold. This is not a play about happily-ever-after, but it is about the ways in which we are forced to make the best of our lives, no matter what is thrown at us, and how these experiences can bring us together, often unexpectedly.
- Kessa De Santis -