Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May 2004
The set is lovely. Three accomplished actors whose work I have enjoyed in the past tread the boards. And yet there is something lackluster about this first produced play for Williamstown playwright Chris Newbound. My guess is that Morning, Noon, and Night is still a work in progress – on its way to possible greatness but not nearly there yet.
Which is not to say that in its present incarnation Morning, Noon, and Night is bad. Far from it. It is good, but not satisfying. Newbound is discovering three strong characters with an interesting story to tell, but he hasn’t quite found their voices yet. The result is that you don’t quite get engaged in their lives, you don’t understand quite enough to really care.
Part of the problem can be found in the genesis of the play. Newbound started out with just the last act, the nighttime conversation between father (Spencer Trova as Phil Smight) and son (Michael Trainor as John Smight), as a one-act play written in an Inkberry writing workshop. Then he became curious about the wife/mother, and what had happened to the family earlier that day. So he developed the female character (Mary Guzzy as Margaret Smight) and wrote the two earlier acts – the morning conversation between Phil and Margaret, and a noontime conversation between Margaret and John.
This still feels like three one-act plays about the same characters. Newbound was right to be curious about this family, but they have not yet revealed to him all their secrets. Ninety minutes is too short for a three-act play. If Newbound can unearth another thirty minutes of goodies from his characters he will really have something. I hope that he has an opportunity to continue to explore and develop this piece, and that local audiences will have a chance to see a larger stronger version in the future.
The happy thing about Morning, Noon, and Night is that it does seem to be attracting large and enthusiastic local audiences. It was a great pleasure to see Main Street Stage full and to hear the room ring with laughter and applause. It is heartening to know that there is support for local playwrights! I hope that Main Street Stage considers presenting more works by area writers in the future. It seems like a win/win proposition if local writers draw good local audiences to this struggling local theatre.
Mira Hilbert has staged Morning, Noon, and Night with great realism and subtlety, aided by the attractive and professional-looking set she has designed and Maia Robbins-Zust’s naturalistic lighting. Trova, Guzzy, and Trainor inhabit rather than impersonate Phil, Margaret, and John. The result is that you feel you really are peeking over the fence into the Smight’s backyard and eavesdropping on their personal conversations.
Anyone who has been in a long-term monogamous relationship will surely recognize themselves and/or their partners in some of the rituals and routines of the Smight family. People want to know what to expect every day. Much as we say we reject labels we secretly covet them, as they apply to others. Mother is an alcoholic, father is a grouch, sister is a free spirit, brother is a brain. We like to pigeon-hole our friends and relations and we like to keep them there long after they have grown and changed. Much of the stress in the Smight household comes from people trying to live up to or live down the labels other family members want to impose.
During the day that we observe them, Phil, Margaret, and John are dealing with many things, chief among them the imminent move of John and his family to Vermont. His older sister Adelaide moved east some years ago, and Phil and Margaret are neither thrilled to be left behind in southern California, nor interested in making a move themselves. Adelaide appears to be winning a recent battle with cancer. Margaret is fed-up with Phil’s persistence and pig-headedness and is considering leaving him. We are told repeatedly that she is an alcoholic, but Phil is the one we see continually drinking.
About thirty more minutes of expository information scattered among the already interesting dialogue that exists would make Morning, Noon, and Night less of a snack and more of a meal. There is particularly room for the all-too-brief first act between Phil and Margaret to grow. And I wanted to know more about John. Newbound has him spend too much time reacting to his parents instead of acting like himself.
Trova, Guizzy, and Trainor are all competent and appealing performers. Trova manages to make even the irascible Phil human and likeable. Guzzy brings vulnerability and depth to the frazzled Margaret. Trainor almost underplays John, but, as I said earlier, his is a character that needs fleshing out in the script. All three actors clearly convey the intimacy and comfort of family life – imperfect as it is. The Smights are not a family in crisis, they are just plain folks working on surviving all the changes and challenges life presents.
So here’s my quibble of the day. My quibbles usually involve some minor technical glitch that could be so easily and inexpensively fixed that it is downright annoying that the director let it slide. In this case it is age. Phil and Margaret Smight, we are told, have been married for 41 years. Phil is 64 and Margaret is coming up on a “big” birthday that one would expect to be her 60th. Both Trova and Guzzy are younger than their characters, but while the silver-haired Trova can pass for a youthful, tennis-playing man in his 60’s, it is impossible to believe Guzzy is anywhere near 59. A little grey sprayed in her hair, a few wrinkles added with the magic of the make-up artist’s brush would be helpful here.
Morning, Noon, and Night will run in previews April 29 and 30 and May 1 at 8 p.m. April 29 is Pay-What-You-Can Community Night. The show officially opens on May 7, with a special opening night reception following the show at the Milan 55 Main restaurant next door to the theatre. The show runs May 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8 p.m., and May 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8 on April 29, $10 April 30 and May 1, $25 for the gala opening night on May 7, and $15 for all other performances. “Student Rush” pricing of $5 per ticket is available at the door for every show if there is room.
The show runs an hour and forty-five minutes with one intermission and is suitable for youngsters over 13. Click here to read my preview article. For tickets and information please call the Main Street Stage (413-663-3240) or visit their Web site. Main Street Stage is located at 57 Main Street in North Adams.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2004