Written by John Kolvenbach, Directed by Kyle Fabel; Scenic Designer, Campbell Baird; Costume Designer, Deb Newhall; Lighting Designer, Paul Hackenmueller; Sound Designer, Jason E. Weber; Stage Manager, Emily F. McMullen; Asst. Stage Manager, Peter Crewe
CAST: Joel Colodner, Rebecca Harris, Deidre Madigan, Jay Ben Markson, Dennis Parlato
Performances through April 8 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA; Box Office 978-543-4MRT (4678) or www.merrimackrep.org
If Margaret Whitney heeded her mother's sayings, such as "Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach," there wouldn't be much to her story beyond the lamentations of a lonely sixty-year old divorcée and recent empty-nester. However, playwright John Kolvenbach decides to let her see what will happen when she takes a thoroughly ill-advised action to turn her life around and goes searching for the ne'er-do-well ex-husband she sent packing two decades earlier. Mrs. Whitney takes an unsentimental and humorous look at the lengths to which people will go in pursuit of romance as the antidote to isolation.
In the wake of her only daughter's marriage, Margaret (Deidre Madigan) is alone on Christmas until she receives an evening visit from her doleful friend Francis (Joel Colodner), a not-so-happily married man who secretly admires her. They are mutually down in the dumps and share their disenchantment about the holidays over a few drinks. When Margaret, a self-described romantic, tells Francis her plan to seek salvation and communion with Tom Whitney, his reaction is swift and awful; he offers himself to her in lieu of that foolhardy idea. However, her curiosity has the better of her and Margaret needs to find out if Tom may have changed enough to become a viable option to rescue her from her plight. As she explains to Francis, visiting Tom while feeling starved for companionship parallels her mother's maxim about grocery shopping, but her desire is so great that she intends to throw caution to the wind.
Margaret shows up unannounced at Tom's house and meets Louisa (Rebecca Harris), long-suffering wife number five. She learns that although he has stopped drinking, the rest of his irresponsible, unreliable behavior patterns continue. He disappears for long stretches of time, he can't hold a job, and he's far better at getting married than staying married. The two women are wary of each other at first, but eventually Louisa asks Margaret for advice about whether or not to leave her husband and Margaret settles in to await Tom's return from his latest wanderings.
At this juncture, Kolvenbach's story has already stretched the boundaries of believability, but his quirky characters are interesting and delightful, not to mention lovingly portrayed, so that we want to continue to get to know them. In fact, that illustrates one of the themes that motivates Margaret, wanting to be known and to know another. One of the reasons why Tom remains attractive to her despite his long list of shortcomings is the knowledge they have of each other. When he arrives home to find his first wife bonding with his college-age son Fin, Tom's surprise seems minimal in comparison to his eventual pleasure at being reunited with the woman who knows him so well and for whom he has always carried a torch.
The serial relationships of his father have had a strong impact on Fin (Jay Ben Markson) as reflected in his inability to form a realistic connection with a girl he likes. As much as he denies any interest in having Margaret "mother" him, he turns to her for guidance. She acknowledges that she is equally foolish in affairs of the heart, but recognizes that the compelling yearning that they share is one of the deep-seated components of the human condition. Ultimately, it explains why Francis acts out of character, the choice Louisa makes, and the potency of the attachment between Tom and Margaret.